The House and Senate Republican Western Caucuses are joining together Tuesday to hold a hearing designed to highlight Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers that show the West has had the highest regional unemployment over the last 12 months.
GOP Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming and GOP Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah announced the hearing they call “War on Western Jobs.” I always perk up when western politicians in an election year start declaring a “War on the West.” Sen. Larry Craig and other Republicans used similar rhetoric against the Clinton administration in 1994 successfully.
The GOP analysis about unemployment is right as far as it goes. Their data is a month old but the West reported the highest regional jobless rate in May, 10.9 percent. But that includes California, at more than 12 percent, which has a far different economy than the Mountain West and Nevada with a whopping 14 percent unemployment rate.
Take Nevada out and the Mountain West actually looks better than most regions of the country. Idaho clearly is hurting at 9 percent and in 2008 and 2009 the state lost 39,000 jobs.
But other than Nevada, our surrounding mountain states have fared remarkably well in the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression. Montana reported 7.2 percent unemployment.
Barrasso's and Bishop’s states, Wyoming and Utah, have 7 percent and 7.3 percent respectively.
Why have Wyoming, Montana and Utah weathered the storm so well? Very different reasons, I suspect. Supporters of the Idaho high tech industry will point to the spending on education, the programs aimed at helping start-up companies and the higher scale of pay for high tech workers based on my interviews for my weekend story on Gov. Butch Otter’s economic vision.
The oil, gas and coal industries, important in all three states have done relatively well.
It’s going to be hard to blame politics for restrictions on these industries after the BP spill and with the Obama administration choosing not to list sage grouse.
Who knows? With the discovery in Payette County maybe we'll have gas revenues we can use to help pay for schools.
Idaho’s unemployment is clearly not as bad as it would have been due to all of the stimulus dollars spent. But how much will be hard to determine until later and of course most Republicans opposed the stimulus so no credit there.
It was only a few years ago that Nevada was leading the nation in economic growth so that turnaround is significant and may play the major role in this year’s election there. But I don’t think the “War on Western Jobs” label is going to stick.