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Jobs data show growth during Jerry Brown years [Updated]

August 11, 2010 |  2:49 pm
Democrat Jerry Brown has the strongest record of any of the five most recent California governors when it comes to creating jobs as a percentage of national job growth, says a former state Employment Development Department director who has been studying the numbers.

Michael Bernick, a San Francisco employment lawyer who ran the jobs agency under former Gov. Gray Davis, notes that the 1.9 million net gain in jobs during Brown's two terms as governor, from January 1975 to January 1983, accounted for 17.3% of the nationwide gain in jobs for the same period.

That performance was ahead of 13.8% of the total under Gov. George Deukmejian from 1983 to 1991; 11.3% under Davis from 1999 to 2003 and 7.2% under Gov. Pete Wilson from 1991 to 1999.

The administration of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger experienced job growth during its first four years, only to see hundreds of thousands of those positions disappear during the steep recession of 2008-09, Bernick said.

How much credit any of those governors can claim is more a political than an economic question, said Bernick. [Update: Bernick has contributed $4,000 to Brown's political campaigns since 2008.] "If you track the numbers from 1975 to the present, you'll see that the main determinant is the national economy," he said. "The state follows the rise and fall of employment and unemployment nationally."

Nevertheless, Sterling Clifford, spokesman for Brown's campaign to succeed Schwarzenegger, was quick to embrace Bernick's numbers as a refutation to GOP opponent Meg Whitman's claims that Brown as governor pursued anti-business policies that hindered job creation. "He has a record on job creation that we'll put against anyone," Clifford said.

The Whitman campaign was equally quick to dismiss Bernick's findings as Brown propaganda, while noting that California's unemployment rate rose to 11% when Brown left office in the tail end of a recession.

"The Brown campaign's half-baked rationale not only completely ignores key variables that must be accounted for in other states," said Whitman spokeswoman Sarah Pompei, "it's a desperate attempt to cover up the fact that Jerry left office with 400,000 more unemployed Californians than when he took office."

In the end, the number of jobs created during any one governor's tenure is more a question of "luck and timing" than any particular tax or regulatory policy, said Esmael Adibi, an economist at Chapman University in Orange County.

"A governor's policies make a little bit of a difference at the margin," he said, "but they're not going to be that instrumental, at least in the short term."

-- Marc Lifsher