By Robert Mann
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s “State of the State” address to the Louisiana Legislature on Monday was such a cornucopia of half-truths and distortions, it’s difficult to know where to start.
The longer Jindal serves as governor, the greater a fabulist he becomes.
Among the many problems with Jindal’s speech was a clever bit of revisionist history he presented to lawmakers about the state’s economy under his stewardship. Jindal told legislators that he’s leaving Louisiana’s economy much better off than he found it. That is patently false.
You have to look no further than the state’s projected $1.6 billion budget shortfall to realize that a supercharged state business climate would generate enough tax revenue to keep the state’s universities from closing. I don’t know what is Jindal’s definition of economic vitality, but it is nothing like what Louisiana legislators are facing in the coming months.
Here’s how Jindal cast his leadership of the state’s economy:
I’d like to start by asking you to think back to ten years ago, about the time hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit our state. Louisiana was at rock bottom.
Our economy was stagnant. We had over two decades of outmigration, with more people leaving Louisiana than moving here. Job were scarce and the future didn’t look so bright. And then the storms hit. . . .
Fast forward to today, and you see a far different picture of Louisiana. And you see the true greatness of our people.
Together — we rebuilt and we are today stronger than we’ve ever been before.
Perhaps Jindal and his speechwriter do not have access to the website of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), but I do.
Turns out, exactly 10 years ago, in April 2005, Louisiana’s unemployment rate was 5.7 percent. As of last February, it was 6.7 percent. That’s one point higher than 10 years ago.
The month that Katrina hit Louisiana — August 2005 — Louisiana’s unemployment rate was up to 7.3 percent, a half-point higher than it was in February 2015 (the date for which the most-recent BLS state numbers are available).
In 2005, Louisiana’s economy was not, as Jindal claimed, at “rock bottom.” Our unemployment rate was higher than the 4.9 percent national average, but far from the bottom.
Here is a graph of Louisiana’s unemployment rate from the BLS, tracking Louisiana’s unemployment rate over the past 10 years. It does not exactly support Jindal’s contention that he has turned around Louisiana’s economy.
In fact, if you look at the U.S. unemployment rate during the same period, Louisiana doesn’t fare so well by comparison.
Is Louisiana, as Jindal claims, really “stronger than we’ve ever been”?
There are, of course, other ways to measure Louisiana’s economic strength, but judging by our employment rate — the percentage of citizens who have jobs — Louisiana is barely doing better than it was 10 years ago and has an unemployment rate higher than the national average.
In fact, Louisiana has the fourth-highest unemployment rate in the country.