The Miracle That Isn't

In my ongoing series “Right to Work, by the Numbers,” I have been trying to build the case that the “right to work” states are hardly the workers’ paradise that the Far Right portrays them to be. Instead, there is a none-too-subtle rhetorical sleight-of-hand at work here: the pro-labor states are derided as derided as having environments that favor a sub-set of privileged workers over the general business climate; so, simply by extension, or so the argument goes, the “right to work” states have a decidedly pro-business climate that benefits all workers. But it is an argument more often asserted than actually supported, and with good reason.

For, in terms of most economic measures and certainly in terms of quality of life measures, most “right to work” states clearly lag well behind the pro-labor states. The much ballyhooed economic shift to the Sun Belt at the expense of the Snow Belt has not really matched the population shift between the two regions.

The one anomaly in the pattern that I have been asserting has seemed to be Texas, which is so large and populous that it often has seemed to be exerting a major upward influence on the statistics for the “right to work” states as a whole.” In his otherwise inept presidential campaign, Rick Perry made any number of gaffes, but his assertion of the “Texas miracle”—of Texas’s almost singular invulnerability to the effects of the Great Recession—went largely unchallenged.

Until now.

Here is a blurb on the cover story for the new issue of Washington Monthly:

“Is Texas our future? Conservatives increasingly point to the Lone Star state’s economic performance and the fact that Americans are “voting with their feet” and moving there as proof that low taxes and low regulation can build broad prosperity.

“Yet as Phillip Longman demonstrates in a new Washington Monthly cover story, there’s much less to the so-called Texas Miracle than meets the eye. Nearly all the state’s recent economic growth results from a boom in oil and gas production. Its high tech and knowledge-intensive sectors have been shrinking since the late 1990s as a share its Gross Domestic Product. It is falling farther and farther behind “Blue” states like New York, Massachusetts and Maryland in per capita income. It taxes the middle class and most businesses at higher rates than do most other major states, including California. And nearly as many Americans are moving out of Texas as are moving in.

“Read ‘Oops: The Texas Miracle That Isn’t.’”

I had read previously that Texas’ employment growth during the Great Recession had actually been much inflated by the creation of large numbers of low-wage service jobs that resulted simply from population growth and also by a rapid expansion of public-sector jobs made possible by the federal economic-stimulus programs. So, while Perry, like other Far Right governors, denounced Obama’s economic stimulus plan as ill-conceived and wasteful, he, in striking contrast to most of those other governors, took the money and ran with it, expanding rather than cutting public employment at all levels.

But Longman’s article goes well beyond any previous examination of the Texas economy during and since the Great Recession. And, especially with the benefit of his investigative reporting, it is hardly a surprise that the hype has hardly reflected the reality, especially for the average working person in Perry’s state.

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