- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Republican governors eying a potential 2016 presidential run are touting their state economies as success stories, saying the conservative policies that they’ve pushed have brought their unemployment rates under control and put people back to work.

But almost all of them face the same retort that Republicans aim at President Obama on the national level: Unemployment rates are dropping, in part, because so many workers have given up even looking for jobs.

“This is a reality of the political landscape,” said Douglas Holtz Eakin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office and now president of the right-leaning American Action Forum. “You have a phenomenon, which is the U.S. labor market, which has a lot of dimensions to it. They are going to pull out the one thing they like best.”

Nowhere is the contrast more pointed than with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who, as head of the National Governors Association, says the dwindling unemployment rates show GOP chief executives are delivering on the jobs front.

“These most recent unemployment figures are proof positive that the pro-jobs, pro-growth, low-tax policies they are championing and implementing in the states are working,” Mr. Christie said earlier this year.

Mr. Christie, a potential 2016 candidate, has himself overseen an unemployment drop from 10.3 percent when he took office in 2010 down to 6.7 percent, according to the latest unadjusted Bureau of Labor Statistics data on the state.

But thousands of workers have also given up looking for work, and others never bothered to enter the workforce, sending the labor participation rate from 66.5 percent down to 63.6 percent in May, according to the BLS data.

Mr. Christie’s record is strikingly similar to Mr. Obama’s national numbers during that same basic time period.

The president has seen the unemployment rate drop from 10.6 percent to 6.3 percent, while labor participation fell from 65.4 percent to 63.4 percent in June, according to the latest BLS data on the federal workforce.

A spokesman for Mr. Christie directed questions to Brian T. Murray of the New Jersey labor department, who attributed most of the decline in the state’s labor force participation rate to the retirement of baby boomers.

“Because of the big cost of living in New Jersey, our assessment has been that the drop is more apt to be due to boomers retiring then people dropping out of the workforce, though we acknowledge that some people may have dropped out,” Mr. Murray said.

GOP Govs. Rick Perry of Texas, Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana — all potential 2016 candidates themselves — also find themselves facing the same problem to varying degrees.

National Republicans continue to attack Mr. Obama for his record. When the latest jobs report showed the country added 288,000 jobs in June, House Speaker John A. Boehner pointed to the more than 800,000 who left the workforce, calling it “troubling.”

And Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said it was good that more people were able to find work, “but more and more people are dropping out of our workforce — giving up on finding a job.”

Asked how that differed from the GOP governors’ experiences, RNC spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said the governors deserved credit for adding jobs, while Mr. Obama shoulders the blame for bad economic headwinds.

“As many of them say often, the federal government and the Obama administration [are] standing in the way of more job creation,” Ms. Kukowski said. “Republican governors have made their states engines of growth and improved the economies of their states, but national employment still lags and is nowhere as good as it could be, because President Obama’s administration routinely sides with big labor union bosses and extreme environmentalists that kill jobs rather than create them.”

But Patrick J. O’Keefe, director of Economic Research at CohnReznick and former deputy assistant director at the Department of Labor during the Reagan administration, said that the dueling responses to jobs reports at the national and state levels illustrate the “irrationality of political discussion.”

“Partisans take credit for good news (e.g., the unemployment rate declined) when they are in charge but dismiss it (e.g., job seekers quit looking) when their opponents reign,” Mr. O’Keefe said in an email, adding that the unemployment rate fell nationally and in New Jersey for the same reason: a decline in labor force participation.

“The chief executives of the U.S. and New Jersey are of different parties, have pursued different policies, but experienced similar outcomes,” he said. To the extent that policies produced those results, partisan blame-laying and credit-claiming is the political equivalent of Dr. Dolittle’s Pushmi-Pullyu.”

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