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Heads Scott wins, tails Obama loses

DAN GELBER, Florida Voices Staff
Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 04:34 PM

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Despite his recent claims that he doesn't care about who gets credit, Gov. Rick Scott is in the midst of a full blown "I get the credit tour" for Florida's reducing unemployment numbers. Nearly every tweet and press release from the Republican Party of Florida (and Gov. Scott) wants Floridians to know precisely who is responsible for Florida's declining unemployment rate. Here's an actual recent tweet: "Thanks to #GovScott policies unemployment is now at the lowest level since December 2008."

But wait, Gov. Scott and the Republicans also want you to blame "Obama's economic policies" for "tepid" economic growth and making it so hard "to find a job." In fact, the only thing they tweet about as much as why Scott should be credited for a good economy, is why Obama should be blamed for a bad one.

So I guess the way this works is any job Florida loses is the fault of the president and his economic policies; and any job we gain is due to the governor's efforts. I am familiar with this argument style, having observed my 11-year old daughter negotiate with her 8-year-old brother. "Heads I win, tails you lose." Max has yet to figure out how to change his bad luck.

Last time I checked, Florida was part of the United States, so the notion that you can simultaneous blame the president and credit the governor for the same job situation is ridiculous. And it is highly doubtful that Mitt Romney will argue that the national jobs picture is the result of 50 state governors and not the president. Perhaps that is why it's been reported the Romney Campaign has told Gov. Scott to nix the braggadocio tour.

But with the presidential election just months away, and state elections soon thereafter, expect logic (and shame) to take a back seat to political necessity.

Hopefully, Floridians will see past the storm of tweets and unconstrained grabs for credit, to see what is really happening in our state. It's clear that Florida's employment woes are not the product of Obama policies; and neither are Rick Scott's pretend solutions addressing our state's true economic challenges.

First, some much needed truth. Much of Florida's recent decline in unemployment is because of workers simply deserting the workforce. Though Florida's working-age population has grown since Scott took office, the size of the workforce is shrinking. According to the state's own economists, over the last year 75 percent of the drop in unemployment is due to people dropping out of the labor force. Pretty certain no one wants to tweet about that.

The equally important statistic is not employment, but income, and Florida is one of five states where personal income is still below pre-recession levels. So people here – even those working – are probably feeling it's harder to make ends meet. Unfortunately, so much of our job growth recently and over the last decade has been in lower-wage jobs. So we are doing nothing to alleviate wage depression. Also, much of Florida's tourism industry is based on the consumer confidence of tourists from other states, so there is little state policy can do to impact those numbers.

Ultimately, the reason our workforce has diminished and our earnings are in the tank is not Obama's fault or even Scott's. Florida has built an economy based on growth. But growth is not an industry. As a state, we have simply failed to adequately invest in workforce education, namely public schools and higher education, making it difficult for our graduates to attract and embrace high-wage and knowledge-based industries.

By every calculus we are business-friendly, yet we can't seem to attract high-wage jobs despite extraordinary climate, beautiful beaches and the 2012 NBA world championship (sorry for the shameless plug.)

These are not issues caused by the policies of the president or a newly elected governor. Rather, they are generational fault lines that are revealed most glaringly when an economy is on the downswing. And they are not features that will be cured in a single election cycle. Elevating a workforce requires our state leadership to explain to our citizens the importance of making the kind of investment that bears dividends long after they are out of office.

Hard to make that argument in 140 spaces or less.

Dan Gelber was a state senator and former House Democratic Leader from Miami.

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