Candidates bicker over economy. So who’s right?

Debunking two claims on population loss, economic growth
Updated: Oct. 31, 2019 at 7:10 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - When they weren’t talking over each other, Governor John Bel Edwards and Republican challenger, Eddie Rispone, were hurling economic statistics at each other during the final gubernatorial debate, held Wednesday, Oct. 30.

Rispone has long claimed Edwards’ policies are stifling job creation. The businessman said he had a plan to create 25,000 jobs before his first term ends, but did not offer details on how he would do it.

“Louisiana is actually losing jobs. We’ve had over 70,000 people leave this state to go to work,” Rispone said during the debate.

From July 1, 2015 to July 1, 2018, 68,478 people have left Louisiana for other states, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. But that number does not account for new babies and immigrants to Louisiana, which is why the population drop over that same period is 18,237, still poor by national standards.

Edwards took office in January of 2016.

“The State of Louisiana has the largest economy in our state’s history,” Edwards said. “It’s growing at the 10th fastest rate in the nation, number one in the southeast.”

Edwards accurately touted Louisiana’s highest ever Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from the third quarter of 2018. GDP is a complicated, common measurement for an economy’s health based on consumer habits and production.

During Edwards’ tenure, Louisiana has lost jobs in the private sector, adjusted for seasonal employment, but the unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been since Governor Bobby Jindal’s first term.

A smaller population, in theory, should benefit the unemployment rate. It could also be an indicator that fewer people are seeking work in 2019.

State economists have often noted that lower prices per barrel may be a driving factor behind job losses in Louisiana’s oil and gas industry, a key factor in the state’s overall economic health. The governor has little control over the price of oil, and likely little control over short-term economic performance.

WAFB political analyst, Jim Engster, noted in an interview Thursday that the president’s tariffs on agricultural products could dictate growth in the near future.

“John Bel Edwards can realistically make the case that the state is better than it was four years ago,” Engster said. “Eddie Rispone can make the case that perhaps we can do better.”

Engster did note the governor can control the state’s budget, which dictates long-term growth. Investments in higher education, for example, should pay dividends decades from now.

“Our state does not like cuts to education. It does not like cuts to healthcare,” Engster said. “John Bel Edwards changed that. The question is whether he changed it enough to survive as a blue candidate in a red state.”

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