LONGVIEW, Tex. — Texas Gov. Rick Perry has leapfrogged to the top tier of Republican presidential candidates largely on the strength of one compelling fact: During more than a decade as governor, his state created more than 1 million jobs, while the nation as a whole lost 1.4 million jobs.
Perry says the “Texas miracle” rests on conservative pillars that he would bring to the White House: minimal regulation and government, low taxes and a determination to limit the reach of Uncle Sam.
What he does not say is that much of that job growth has come because of government, not in spite of it.
With a young and fast-growing population, a large and expanding military presence and an influx of federal stimulus money, the number of government jobs in Texas has grown at more than double the rate of private-sector employment during Perry’s tenure.
The disparity has grown sharper since the national recession hit. Between December 2007 and last June, private-sector employment in Texas declined by 0.6 percent while public-sector jobs increased by 6.4 percent, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Overall, government employees account for about one-sixth of the workforce in Texas.
The significant role of government in Texas’s relative prosperity stands in stark contrast to the “go-it-alone” image cultivated by Perry, who credits a lack of government interference for fostering a business-friendly environment in Texas.
“The fact is, government doesn’t create jobs, otherwise the last 21/2 years of stimulus would have worked,” Perry said this month in a speech to the National Conference of State Legislatures. “Government can only create the environment that allows the private sector to create jobs. The single most important contributor to our jobs-friendly climate here in Texas is our low tax burden, because we know dollars do far more to create jobs and prosperity in the people’s hands than they do in the government’s.”
Perry has criticized Washington for “thumbing its nose” at the American people. In announcing his candidacy for president last weekend, Perry said he would “work every day to make Washington, D.C., as inconsequential in your life as I can.”
Mark Miner, a Perry spokesman, said the governor’s job-creation record speaks for itself. He also said the state received less per capita — about $1,000 per resident vs. more than $1,400 in New York and $1,200 in California — than most other states from the stimulus plan while still producing more jobs.
Analysts call the growth in government employment in Texas a natural consequence of the surging population, which has grown by more than 20 percent in the past decade to 25.1 million. The increase has caused local governments and school systems to hire more teachers, budget analysts, compliance officers and police officers.
“A lot of growth has been happening in the public sector to respond to a growing population,” said Don Baylor Jr., a senior policy analyst with the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a research and advocacy group in Austin. “That has been an ongoing driver of our job growth.”
Baylor warned that the growth in government jobs may shortly come to an abrupt halt when state budget cuts take effect this year. In July, a dip in government jobs contributed to a spike in the state’s unemployment rate, which went from 8.2 percent to 8.4 percent.
“I think we are about to find out what the jobs picture looks like” without growth in the public sector, Baylor said.
The Texas economy also has benefited from the huge sums spent by the federal government. The state is home to several large military installations as well as NASA, which helped Texas reap more than $227 billion in federal spending in 2009 — more than double its 2001 total, according to the Census Bureau. Texas is the nation’s second-most-populous state, behind California, where the federal government spent almost $346 billion in 2009.
In the wake of the Great Recession, the state has raked in nearly $25 billion in federal stimulus money, which has gone to everything from road projects and unemployment benefits to helping to balance the state budget. Befitting its population, Texas has received the third-highest amount of stimulus money in the nation, behind California and New York.
“It is not like Texas does not benefit from Washington,” said Richard W. Fisher, president and chief executive of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. “We get ours. But still, the driving force of the Texas economy is the private sector.”