Rick Perry's biggest talking point in his young campaign has been the strength of the Texas economy. He frequently notes that his state has created more jobs than any other since the economy soured, and he boasts about Texas's ability to manage its own health care system without federal interference. But the facts are somewhat different.
In terms of raw numbers, it is true that Texas has created more jobs than any other state: about 40 percent of the national total. But when it comes to the type of jobs created, the situation is much less rosy. Most of these jobs pay minimum wage or close to it. That's $7.25 per hour, or about $15,000 per year for a full-time worker. For perspective, the federal poverty line for a single person is $11,161 and the line for a four-person family is $21,756. This means that many of the Texans working in the new jobs Perry touts are still living in poverty.
A minimum-wage job is better than no job -- but it's not something to brag about as proof of your ability to revive the economy.
Even more misleading are Perry's claims about the strength of the Texas health care system. Like many Republicans, he has criticized President Obama's health care overhaul, particularly its requirement that every individual obtain health insurance. Texas sued the federal government last year to block Obamacare, and Perry said at the time that he would make it his priority to protect our families, taxpayers and medical providers.
The result is that a staggering 27.2 percent of Texans are uninsured, according to a recent Gallup poll -- the highest rate in the nation. When they get sick, Perry's uninsured constituents place a heavy burden on hospitals, which are legally required to treat them even if they can't pay. That cost ultimately gets transferred to residents who are insured. Translation: taxpayers end up subsidizing the uninsured just as surely as they would through a state-sponsored health care program.
The public health consequences of a high uninsured rate are severe. About a third of children in Texas did not receive a routine physical or teeth cleaning in 2007, the Los Angeles Times reported. Infant mortality rates have declined nationally, but they have increased in Texas, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And according to the Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit foundation, only Mississippi ranks lower than Texas in insurance affordability.
Perry says it's the federal government's fault that his state has the worst uninsured rate in the country. I'll tell you what the people of the state of Texas don't want. They don't want a health plan like what Gov. Romney put in place in Massachusetts, he said recently. What they would like to see is the federal government get out of their business. He added that if Obama gave Texas more flexibility in spending Medicaid funds, we wouldn't not have that many people uninsured.
But this argument doesn't hold much water when 49 other states have managed to insure a greater percentage of their residents under the same federal regulations. Massachusetts, with its mandatory health care plan that Perry disparages, has the lowest uninsured rate in the country: just 5.3 percent, according to Gallup.
So more and more Texans are working long hours at minimum-wage jobs but still can't support their families, and more than a quarter of the population of the second largest state in the country is uninsured. But that's just Rick Perry's small government at work.