If you're trying to size up the GOP presidential candidates, you may be getting tired of the chest-thumping over which state is No. 1: Texas, Massachusetts or Utah.
The GOP field, of course, includes two former governors—Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Jon Huntsman of Utah—plus Rick Perry, the current governor of Texas. Each has a considerable record as the man in charge of a statewide bureaucracy, which might help predict how he'd perform as president.
The biggest issue in the election, of course, is jobs, so the candidates are each touting their job-creation cred. The problem, however, is that the three governors have run their states during different timeframes, which makes direct comparisons dicey. Romney and Huntsman both governed for four years, with Romney's tenure ending in 2007, before the latest recession began, and Huntsman's including the whole recession but virtually none of the recovery. Perry has been Texas governor since the end of 2000, a much longer stint that includes both the boom and bust years of the last decade.
Another way to compare their economic records, however, is to compare the number of jobs created in each state while each governed, with the performance of the nation as a whole during the same timeframe. There are some drawbacks to this approach, such as the fact that a governor's policies don't take effect immediately, or end when the term is complete. There's always a lag in terms of how anybody's policies affect job creation. Still, employment levels in each state, compared to the national average, are a useful proxy for each man's job-creation record. Here's what data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows:
Mitt Romney. Governor of Massachusetts from January 2003 to January 2007.
Increase in statewide employment during that time: 1.4 percent.
Increase in nationwide employment during that time: 5.4 percent.
Bottom line: Massachusetts under Romney performed 4 percentage points worse than the nation as a whole.
Jon Huntsman. Governor of Utah from January 2005 to August 2009.
Increase in statewide employment: 4.8 percent.
Increase in nationwide employment: -1.9 percent (a net job loss).
Bottom line: Utah under Huntsman outperformed the nation by 6.7 points.
Rick Perry. Governor of Texas from December 2000 to the present.
Increase in statewide employment: 11.3 percent.
Increase in nationwide employment: -0.9 percent (a net job loss).
Bottom line: Texas under Perry has outperformed the nation by 12.2 points.
So in terms of job creation alone, Perry and Huntsman both thump Romney, with Perry leading the pack.
There are other important measures of prosperity besides job creation, however, and by those metrics, Texas's star loses some luster. Economic consulting firm EMSI of Moscow, Idaho analyzed the makeup of the economy in each of the three states, and that data suggests that Romney's state more closely resembles the type of modern economy that would benefit the nation as a whole.
When Romney left office in 2007, for example, the average salary in Massachusetts was nearly $64,000, about 22 percent higher than the national average. That's partly because the Bay State is in a region of the country where living costs are traditionally high, but it's also because jobs in Massachusetts tend to be concentrated in high-wage industries like healthcare, manufacturing, professional services and finance. Government jobs account for about 9 percent of the total, the lowest percentage among the three states. And 38.1 percent of adults have a college degree or better, which makes Massachusetts one of the best-educated states.
When Huntsman left office in 2009, average pay in Utah was much lower, at about $44,000—17 percent lower than the national average. Living costs in Utah are lower than in the northeast, but still, Utah doesn't have the same proportion of high-paying industries as Massachusetts. The biggest employer is government, accounting for 14 percent of all jobs. Next is manufacturing, with 13 percent. Then come finance, real estate, healthcare and construction. The percentage of adults with a college education or higher is 28.8 percent, nearly 10 points lower than in Massachusetts.
In Perry's Texas, average pay is about $53,500, two percent higher than the national average. But that's skewed upward thanks to high-paying jobs in the energy industry, which accounts for 9 percent of all jobs in Texas and clearly benefited from a worldwide spike in energy prices that Perry had nothing to do with. As in Utah, government is the biggest employer in Texas, providing 12 percent of all jobs, followed by manufacturing, then energy. Just 26.2 percent of adults in Texas have a college degree or higher.
EMSI notes one other important distinction among the three states: Texas and Utah perform better than Massachusetts at "shift share," an economic measure of how competitive a state's economy is compared with all other states. What that suggests is that Texas and Utah have been gaining jobs either by creating more than their share, or by taking them from other states. Massachusetts, meanwhile, has been growing less rapidly than other states, and possibly losing jobs to them. That's consistent with claims by Perry, for instance, that Texas is friendlier to business than other states, with fewer regulations, lower taxes and less red tape.
What's not clear is whether the tactics used to draw businesses to a given state would be just as effective at a national level. It's much easier for a business to relocate from Detroit to Dallas, as Comerica Bank did recently, than to move from Europe or Asia to the United States. And luring international companies to America with the promise of lower-paid workers or looser regulations—an approach some governors take in the state-by-state battle for jobs—hardly seems like a pathway back to national prosperity. Creating jobs ain't nearly as easy as it used to be.