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ANALYSIS: Hoeven job growth claims mixed

FARGO -- To illustrate his effective leadership, U.S. Senate candidate John Hoeven is touting the number of jobs created in North Dakota during his 10 years as the state's governor.

FARGO -- To illustrate his effective leadership, U.S. Senate candidate John Hoeven is touting the number of jobs created in North Dakota during his 10 years as the state's governor.

A review of data compiled by Job Service North Dakota backs up Hoeven's claim. But the figures might not tell the whole story when offered through quick sound bites on the campaign trail.

In ads for his Senate bid, Hoeven claims "we've gained almost 40,000 jobs," and he's recently taken heat from a Democratic foe who accuses him of exaggerating the facts.

Hoeven used that job-creation claim when campaigning for re-election in 2008.

Job Service North Dakota, a state agency that tracks labor and employment statistics, said here were an estimated 38,600 more nonfarm jobs in 2009 than in 2000 -- an 11.8 percent increase statewide.

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"More people are moving to or staying in North Dakota to take advantage of the good-paying jobs available right here in our state," Hoeven spokesman Don Larson said in a recent campaign statement on the topic.

But even though money still flows into the state's economy from those new jobs, the 38,600 doesn't necessarily translate into that many more employed people, and some jobs could employ people not living in North Dakota, Job Service said.

The job-growth statistic is influenced by commuters who live outside North Dakota but work in the state and by residents who work more than one job.

For instance, in calculating the number of jobs statewide, those who work more than one job are counted for each job they have.

The amount of people with more than one job represented nearly 10 percent of North Dakota's population in 2008, the most recent data available.

The growth in the number of jobs statewide serves as a mark of North Dakota's diversified economy, which includes multiple industries that avoided much of the impact felt by a nationwide recession, said Job Service research analyst Michael Ziesch.

Industries with the most number of jobs gained since 2000 include health care and social assistance, construction, government, accommodation and food service, and mining and logging.

The latter category -- which includes oil and gas mining -- more than doubled its amount of jobs during the past decade and had the second-highest average annual wage in 2009 among the industries tracked.

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That job growth comes as no surprise when considering the oil boom that helped support North Dakota's economy since 2000.

Manufacturing and information were the only two industries to lose jobs, at a combined 1,250 jobs estimated to be gone during the past decade. But the manufacturing sector was also one of the hardest hit by the national recession in recent years.

Hoeven has campaigned in support of smaller, limited government -- a message he's continuing in his bid for Senate.

Yet, included in the job growth Hoeven touts is a 5.9 percent increase in government jobs - including local, state and federal -- during his years as governor.

Government ranked as the industry with the third-highest increase in the number of new jobs since 2000. In terms of percentage growth, government ranked 14th out of 19 industries.

Larson, Hoeven's campaign manager, emphasized that the increase in government jobs was "just above a half-percent a year in growth. ... Some people like to think it's a lot higher than that."

"The governor's position from the start is that you've got to grow your economy first and then use that growth in your economy to invest in your priorities," Larson said of the paradox between the data and the governor's message. "The growth in our economy since he's been governor has far outweighed the growth in government."

Hoeven-led initiatives to promote a successful economic climate and spur growth in North Dakota sparked the job creation numbers that Hoeven campaigns on, Larson said.

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"Government doesn't create jobs; it creates an environment where people are entrepreneurs to create jobs," Larson said.

For instance, Larson said, the Empower North Dakota initiative provided incentives to the energy industry -- including oil companies -- to keep and bring their business to North Dakota.

"We're not the only state that has oil in the ground, but because of the business climate we've set up in North Dakota, we've been able to get more investment into that industry," Larson said.

But because of the numerous factors that shape job-growth statistics, it's unclear who or what truly deserves the credit for the new jobs.

"As for growing jobs, who's responsible? I don't know," Ziesch said, adding that North Dakota has been fortunate with its economic situation.

Bismarck State Sen. Tracy Potter, the Democratic candidate in the U.S. Senate race, recently accused Hoeven of making exaggerated claims about the state's job growth and said Friday he still wasn't satisfied with the governor's explanation of the data behind his claim.

The numbers of new jobs don't add up, according to Potter, who added that he doesn't see Job Service as the most credible source.

"The (U.S.) Bureau of Labor Statistics is more accurate than Job Service, which is an agency under John Hoeven," Potter said.

Potter cited employment figures in his accusation against Hoeven's claim, arguing that the state's population declined during the last decade and that the unemployment rate increased in that time.

The unemployment rate did grow from 2.7 percent in December 2000 to 4.3 percent in December 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But the state's population actually grew overall by about 4,600 residents since 2000 despite some annual declines, according to the North Dakota Census Committee.

Also, Potter's reference to employment figures is not an accurate correlation to the job figures, Ziesch said.

They come from two separate series of data that track growth, and "when they start going between different series, that's where a person gets in trouble," Ziesch said.

Potter said he came to a conclusion similar to one that could be based on the Job Service numbers: More North Dakotans since 2000 might have more than one job.

He said if that's a factor in the increased number of jobs, Hoeven's campaign should cite that when claiming job growth.

"If that's what they're saying, that's what they should say," Potter said.

But Larson contends Hoeven is accurately quantifying his success.

"When you look at it, we're backing up what we're saying," Larson said. "People can argue back and forth, but we're using the most reputable figures that are out there."

The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and the Herald are both Forum Communications Co. newspapers.

Related Topics: JOHN HOEVEN
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