The Guardian’s Paul Harris doesn’t like what he sees in Texas. According to Harris’ September 4 piece “Miracle or mirage – what’s the truth about Rick Perry’s Texas?” , draconian spending cuts and a government that enriches corporations at the expense of the poor have turned Texas into a wasteland where the “low-wage economy means having a job is not enough to provide the basics of life.” Aside from urban centers that have benefited from a robust energy market and steady housing prices, says Harris, Texas has a slew of “dirty little secrets” that prove the disastrous consequences of the Texas model.
These conclusions should be expected when relying on allegorical evidence from food bank patrons, but let’s look at the evidence.
According to the American Community Survey, between 2005 and 2009 nearly 750,000 people moved to Texas. Of those 750,000 migrants, 40 percent reported an annual income of less than $25,000. But even with this mass migration of relatively poor people, Texas has been able to provide enough jobs to remain below the national unemployment rate. And while wages in Texas might not be the highest in the country, a 2009 median household income of $47,143 (94.4% of the U.S. median household income) can go a long way in the nation’s 2nd-cheapest state.
Harris likes to blame “slashing the state education budget” for Texas’ lower-than-average high school graduation rate, but the correlation between per-pupil expenditures and graduation rates is dubious. A less-educated population can also be explained by demographic trends. Washington DC spends twice as much per student as Texas yet graduates 17 percent fewer kids.
The demographic makeup of school aged children in Texas significantly affects the state’s overall education achievements. According to the U.S. Department of Education, Texas’ National Assessment of Education Progress ratings compare closely with the national average. When adjusted for ethnic status, however, Texas students’ performance exceeds that of the U.S. as a whole. Like many critics, Harris ignores factors such as Texas’ high ESL and foreign immigrant populations, relying instead on the fallacious assumption that less spending alone leads to lowered outcomes.
Painting pictures of hard-working elderly women waiting in 100 degree heat for free food can be an effective way to tug at heartstrings, but in no way can these stories explain Texas’ economic or social situations. Tearing down economic barriers and promoting upward mobility has spawned the creation of over one million jobs in Texas during the past decade while at the same time the country saw a reduction of over 1.2 million jobs. This surge in employment has done more for the average Texas resident than any handout or social program ever could. If that’s our “dirty little secret”, we should be shouting it from the streets.