Economist Says Jindal 'Misinterprets' Jobs Data

BATON ROUGE (AP) — The Legislature's chief economist says Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration has been misinterpreting employment data, inaccurately saying the state is outperforming much of the region and the nation in its job growth.

         "It is obvious that Louisiana economic performance, as measured by total nonfarm employment, has not outperformed the South or the United States as a whole and, in fact, has substantially underperformed those regions," wrote Greg Albrecht, with the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Office, in a new analysis.

         Albrecht said the state's lagging performance is largely because of sizable cuts in state government jobs, reductions pushed by Jindal and praised by his administration. But Albrecht said even if looking only at the private sector, Louisiana is only performing on par with the South and the nation in the economic recovery, not ahead of them.

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         The economist's analysis, posted online this week, could damage the rosy employment picture Jindal has touted in appearances across the nation as he builds a likely 2016 presidential campaign.

         It also comes as lawmakers have questioned why the state's coffers haven't seen a noteworthy boost in income and sales tax revenue as the Republican governor repeatedly talks of economic development wins and job gains.

         But Jindal's economic development secretary, Stephen Moret, said it's not his agency, but Albrecht that isn't reading the labor figures correctly.

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         Moret repeated the administration's assertion that Louisiana's private-sector job growth since Jindal took office in January 2008 is second-best in the South and fourth-best nationwide, and he said the employment data supports the claim.

         "Mr. Albrecht is cherry picking the numbers," Moret said in a statement. He added: "Many of the states Mr. Albrecht is suggesting have economically outperformed Louisiana actually have less jobs today than they had in January 2008. It makes no sense to suggest such states have outperformed Louisiana during this administration's time in office."

         The disagreement is mired in dense labor statistics and unemployment data.

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         Albrecht said while the percentage changes in employment levels are higher for Louisiana than the South and the nation since January 2008, he said that doesn't equate to a better employment performance. He said Louisiana's employment dropped less during the recession than other states.

         The "misinterpretation can be summed up by saying that if a region drops by only half as much as other regions, then recovers at the same pace as the other regions, it will climb back to its starting point in half the time," Albrecht wrote.

         But he said that climb "says nothing about the State's relative economic performance."

         Moret defended the Department of Economic Development's interpretation of state employment data, saying Louisiana is one of only 21 states in the country that has more jobs today than in January 2008.

         "These are simple facts, verifiable," Moret said.

         He also pointed to economic development wins, saying the state has brought in more projects per capita than other states over the past several years, which he described as a "significant contributor to our economic outperformance."

         – by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte


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