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In comparing the records of the vice presidential candidates, Donald Trump ignores prevailing economic trends when he notes that when Tim Kaine was governor of Virginia “unemployment doubled” while under Gov. Mike Pence, Indiana has seen “great job growth.” Kaine served during the Great Recession when every state saw unemployment rates rise significantly, and Pence has served during the economic expansion following that recession, when every state but one has seen job gains.
We have long cautioned our readers to be wary of claims about governors’ performance on job creation, because economists point out that job gains and losses, and unemployment rates, tend to track regional and national trends. And viewing them out of that context presents a distorted view.
Such is the case with Trump’s comparison, which he made during a speech in Daytona Beach, Florida, on Aug. 3.
Trump, Aug, 3: Your vice presidential candidate, running along with Hillary, you know what happened the first week, [Kaine] raised taxes in the state of Virginia, and I think you heard, by $4 billion. $4 billion. And that was when he started. Unemployment almost doubled, in fact it might’ve more than doubled. So his first act was a tax increase, his second act was watching the state go to hell.
… You look at Mike Pence, the great job he’s done in Indiana, it’s been amazing. Lower taxes, great job growth.
A similar comparison is made on the Trump campaign website.
Before we get to the jobs numbers, a word about Trump’s claim that in Kaine’s first week as governor, he “raised taxes in the state of Virginia” by $4 billion. Not long after taking office, Kaine proposed higher taxes on auto insurance and purchases, as well as higher fees for car registration and stiffer fines for driving offenses. The Washington Post estimated the higher taxes and fees would raise revenue of $1 billion a year, or $4 billion total over the four years of Kaine’s term. The extra money would have been earmarked to ease the state’s transportation woes — going to mass transit, highway construction and road projects.
However, the Republican-led state Legislature squashed Kaine’s transportation proposal. So it would have been accurate for Trump to say that in his first month of office Kaine tried to raise taxes by $4 billion, but inaccurate to say Kaine “raised taxes” by that amount, or to go even further and suggest a cause-and-effect that the tax increase hurt the job market. The proposed tax hike never came to pass. (In Kaine’s final budget proposal, he proposed income tax, alcohol and cigarette taxes that the conservative Americans for Tax Reform projected would come to “nearly $4 billion in higher taxes,” but that plan was rejected as well.)
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate in Virginia went from 3.2 percent in January 2006 to 7.4 percent in January 2010 (Kaine’s time in office). The national unemployment rate over that period went from 4.7 percent to 9.8 percent. So one could say the unemployment rate more than doubled in Virginia under Kaine. Or one could say unemployment was 1.5 percentage points better than the national average when Kaine took office and 2.4 percentage points better than the national average when he left.
As for Pence, the unemployment rate in Indiana was a little worse than the national average when he took office (8.4 percent in Indiana, 8.0 percent nationally) and was slightly better than the national average in June (4.8 percent in Indiana, 4.9 percent nationally).
During Kaine’s term as Virginia’s governor, the state lost a net 97,800 jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s a job loss rate of 2.6 percent. But that’s better than the national average. Nationwide, there was a 4.2 percent rate of job loss over the same period.
And under Pence in Indiana, the state has added a net 153,800 jobs (as of June, the latest data available). That’s a job growth rate of 5.3 percent, worse than the 6.6 percent job growth rate nationally over the same period.
So what does that tell us about Kaine’s performance on jobs relative to Pence’s? Very little.
“The U.S. macroeconomic climate was completely different for these two periods,” Tara Sinclair, a George Washington University economics professor, told us via email. Kaine’s term in office, 2006 to 2010, “included the Great Recession, the worst economic downturn in U.S. history since the Great Depression,” while in comparison, Pence’s time in office, 2013 to 2016, “was a continued economic expansion following that recession,” Sinclair said. “So yes, although the raw numbers are consistent with the claim, the context is very different.”
As always, we caution readers to view jobs claims with skepticism, and to put any claims about job gains or losses into the context of regional and national trends.