Sometimes reading the news is like listening to a disco oldies station: tunes you finally extracted from your head burst forth anew, providing fresh torment with no improvement.
The Wolf administration is a bit like that. Months ago, they broke decades of tradition by instructing the Department of Labor and Industry on how to measure job growth, and turned around and said they had to because somehow Tom Corbett was to blame for an overly sunny assessment of the Marcellus Shale industry.
That bit of intellectual vandalism was mostly forgotten, only to reemerge last week. John Hanger, the governor’s policy director, declared that Corbett had “cooked the books” and, by one measure or another, manufactured a 250,000 job figure.
As ever, context is needed in understanding that figure. If the Wolf regime has shown us anything, it is that context is their enemy.
When I arrived in Harrisburg five years ago, one of my first tasks was to figure out precisely what the Marcellus boom implied.
Frankly, we were all stumbling around trying to figure out the precise, or even approximate, benefits the state was deriving from this industry.
Typical of the Harrisburg mindset, many people wanted to impose a tax on the industry straight off, even as we were trying to figure out what kind of prosperity it brought and how to maximize it.
A team of statistical wizards from L&I visited my office and brought a slim publication with them, called Marcellus Fast Facts.
We are not talking about industry boosters here. Of the agencies with which I dealt, L&I was among the best briefed and least political to be found.
Their statistical science was a constantly evolving process, at once sweeping in its reach and pinpoint in its precision.
That’s how I came to learn about the concepts of direct employment, indirect employment, and induced employment.
Direct would be the people who do the drilling and pumping, while indirect would be that cluster of industries that provide so much of the support. Induced employment was the most interesting.
It was, basically, a mathematical calculation as to how the general economic buzz taking place in the gas fields and their surroundings, affected the general economy and made a job in an industry that benefited, a little more prosperous or a bit more secure.
One way to think of it is to imagine a swimming pool. If you pour a bucket of water on one end, the water rises, however incrementally, across the entire surface.
So, they deduced that Marcellus was a big deal. I had suspected as much because it had already created jobs in my old industry — journalism. There were reporters assigned exclusively to covering the industry.
That meant the tasks they once performed might compel their newspaper or radio station to hire someone to do their old tasks. One station had a reporter whose coverage was underwritten by a Pittsburgh foundation notable for its dislike of Marcellus.
That meant someone shuffling grant applications in Downtown Pittsburgh had a job made all the more necessary by a couple of roughnecks wrestling with giant augurs in Tioga County.
That was the context of those numbers.
That’s why Patrick Henderson, the governor’s energy executive at the time, repeatedly said things such as, “We have about 240,000 Pennsylvanians working in industries that are supported directly, or made more secure, by the growth of oil and gas activity in Pennsylvania.”
Note: he did not say all of those jobs were created directly by Marcellus. They were benefiting.
As was the rest of the state, whether it was a Ford dealer selling F-150s that would otherwise have stayed on the lot, or a shopkeeper in Philadelphia who was living a little better because his electric and heating bills had dropped because of cheap, plentiful Marcellus gas.
If anyone wanted a little empirical evidence as to the difference gas drilling made in this state, they needed only to turn to the pages of The Buffalo News in 2014.
The paper studied the economics of four northern tier counties in Pennsylvania, where drilling was going on, and the adjacent counties in New York, where fracking is banned.
They found that per capita income in the Pennsylvania counties jumped 19 percent in the four preceding years, compared with 9 percent in the four New York counties.
Outside of L&I’s professionals, every assessment of Marcellus jobs figures, the willingness to accept the idea of economic growth was determined by whether someone was for or against fracking.
That’s why I trusted L&I, because they could explain the wider meaning, using tools they’d assembled years before Tom Corbett was elected, and which they continued to fine-tune as the evidence warranted.
They should have been left alone.
As I contemplated this renewed burst of economic change denial by a governor who can’t pass a budget, a story on the business page of the Post-Gazette caught my eye.
Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate has dipped below the national average — a journey it began in the early days of the Corbett administration, when we had the sense to allow a growth industry to grow.
I recalled the words of the poet Richard Wilbur, who wrote:
We milk the cow of the world, and as we do
We whisper in her ear, ‘You are not true.’
Well, Secretary Hanger, the economy has something to say to you:
A former Corbett administration speechwriter and now a Republican consultant, Dennis Roddy, of Pittsburgh, is an occasional PennLive Opinion contributor.Author: Dennis RoddyPublication: PennLivehttp://www.pennlive.com/opinion/2016/01/with_shale_jobs_data_everythin.html#incart_river_home