Gov. Nathan Deal blamed “historically faulty” economic data and suggested politicking was behind this month's unemployment rate hike. Democrat Jason Carter called it a sign of Deal's failed leadership. And Libertarian Andrew Hunt used it to press a plan to eliminate more taxes.
The jobless rate, which surprised many analysts by jumping to 8.1 percent in a report issued today, has sent a charge through the governor's race. It also put Deal, a Republican who has put his economic agenda at the center of his campaign, on the defensive.
The governor set out to question how federal labor officials crunched the numbers. Initial applications for unemployment dropped by 27 percent in August and 25,000 new jobs were added that month, according to the report.
"I don't know how you reconcile that. We are seeing job growth," said Deal, adding: "The data has been historically faulty. These are surveys and estimates that the Labor Department is putting out, and every year since I was governor they’ve had to come back and adjust it downwards. They’ve always been high, and I believe they are again this year."
Echoing Labor Commissioner Mark Butler, Deal said federal officials eventually lowered unemployment figures from July and August of last year after crunching more data. He added that the jobless rate is still down two percentage points from when he took office, and cited federal data that showed about 540,000 jobs were created in his tenure.
He also suggested a more devious plot was at hand.
"It’s ironic that in a year in which Republican governors are leading some of the states that are making the most progress, that they almost, without exception, are classified as having a bump in their unemployment rates. Whereas states that are under Democrat governors' control, they're all showing that their unemployment rate has dropped. Now I don’t know how you account for that. Maybe there is some influence here that we don’t know about. But when you say that California is in a better position in terms of unemployment than the state of Georgia, there’s just something that just does not ring true."
Across town, Carter held a press conference that my AJC colleague Nicholas Fouriezos caught. The Democrat sought to capitalize on the surprise increase, repeating the campaign line that "we are reaping what we have sown."
Carter, a state senator, said the economy would improve on his watch by focusing more on small-business growth and increasing education funding.
“This horrible economic news is a direct result of the Governor’s failed education and economic policies,” he said.
Hunt, the third-party candidate, crashed Carter's event and spoke after the Democrat had ceded the podium. He said he would reduce the unemployment rate to 5 percent by eliminating certain payroll taxes and reducing regulations.
“We have a program that takes money from small businesses, small towns, small cities, and gives it to large, billion-dollar corporations,” Hunt said. “We have to turn that around.”