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Fact-checking Ron DeSantis on job growth in Florida

PolitiFact | Florida gained a net 84,500 jobs in September, ranking the state second in raw job gains and first in percentage growth.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at the opening of a monoclonal antibody site on Aug. 18 in Pembroke Pines.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at the opening of a monoclonal antibody site on Aug. 18 in Pembroke Pines. [ MARTA LAVANDIER | AP ]
Published Oct. 27
Updated Oct. 27

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis took a victory lap after the federal government released job numbers for September.

DeSantis, a Republican, posted on Oct. 22 that “Florida is driving the nation’s economy forward — the nation reported adding 194,000 jobs in September, and Florida accounted for 84,500.”

A reader noticed this post and asked us if we could fact-check it.

DeSantis made a similar point during a press conference on Oct. 25. He used the same two numbers and said that “almost half of the nation’s (job growth) output was just in Florida.”

We found that Florida does have reason to be pleased with its showing in jobs for September. But DeSantis’ comparison of the two figures is exaggerated. Both numbers come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but they are calculated differently.

Florida’s number, 84,500 net jobs, is impressive compared with what other states produced. In numerical job gains, Florida ranked second in the nation to Texas that month.

Florida is the nation’s third most-populous state, so measuring job gains by raw numbers does risk giving it an unfair boost in a 50-state comparison. But in this case, Florida did well on a percentage basis, too. In fact, measuring by percentage gains from the previous month, Florida would actually leapfrog Texas to No. 1 in the national rankings for job growth.

That said, this state number may change, and the numerical comparison DeSantis made to national figures isn’t apples-to-apples.

The numbers are subject to revision. Not only are these numbers preliminary, but figures for individual states have a larger margin for error than the national numbers do, and the eventual revisions made to the September numbers in subsequent months could make “significant” changes to the 84,500 figure, said Gary Burtless, a Brookings Institution economist. (Of course, the revision could push the numbers higher, rather than lower.)

There can be significant variations from month to month. During the previous month, Florida gained a net 20,500 jobs, or about one-fourth of the total in September. That ranked Florida 17th nationally for percentage job growth.

The month-to-month variations can be especially affected by the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to ups and downs in what sectors are expanding or contracting at a particular time. And Florida’s bounceback in September may have had something to do with the lower job growth the previous month.

Economists say a better way to look at the numbers is to use a longer timeline, so that month-to-month variations are smoothed out.

So we looked at the data between September 2020 and September 2021. Florida did well, but it wasn’t as much of an outlier as it was in the most recent month alone. Year over year, Florida’s percentage job gains ranked eighth among the 50 states.

The two numbers DeSantis compared aren’t really apples to apples. The biggest caveat is the relationship between the two numbers DeSantis cited in his post.

The 84,500 figure he used comes from the state-by-state breakdown released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, whereas the 194,000 figure comes from the national survey. This may not sound like a big deal, but the smaller state-level counts are subject to greater uncertainty and error.

Specifically, if you add up all the net job gains from the 34 states that gained jobs in September and subtract the net job losses in the 16 states that lost jobs that month, it produces a net gain of 363,000 jobs nationally. That’s a significantly larger figure than the national estimate.

DeSantis’ juxtaposition made it seem like Florida accounted for 44 percent of the jobs created nationally. But that’s misleading. If you compare Florida’s 84,500 jobs gained to the national figure for net job gains from the same data set — 363,000 — Florida accounted for 23 percent of the nation’s job gains that month. Again, not a bad result, but not as good as the comparison DeSantis made.

If you use the 194,000 figure, then the top three gaining states alone — Texas, Florida, and California — collectively produced a net 227,700 new jobs, which would be 117 percent of the new net job creation in September.

Emilie Oglesby, director of communications and external affairs at the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, said that the administration “stands by the statement that Florida is driving the nation’s positive economic activity.”

Our ruling

DeSantis said, “The nation reported adding 194,000 jobs in September and Florida accounted for 84,500.”

The 84,500 number was an impressive showing nationally, ranking second among the states in raw job gains and first as a percentage.

However, state jobs numbers are more in flux than they may seem, because they are subject to revision and bounce around a lot from month to month.

In addition, DeSantis’ numerical comparison contains a mismatch in the underlying data. The 194,000 figure is taken from a national calculation; the more accurate national figure to compare it to is 363,000. Comparing Florida’s jobs gains to the bigger but more comparable number gives Florida a smaller share of the national total.

We rate the statement Half True.