Governor’s tweet: Inaccurate or a breach of confidentiality?


EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was updated Saturday with a statement from Gov. Greg Abbott’s office.

A tweet sent Wednesday by Gov. Greg Abbott might have violated rules on the confidentiality of workforce numbers prior to their official release.

“The Texas unemployment rate is now the lowest it’s been in 40 years & Texas led the nation last month in new job creation,” Abbott said in his tweet.

The governor’s office dismissed the notion that the tweet violated any rules, saying its mention of “last month” referred to September, the latest publicly available data as of that day. And a spokeswoman for the Texas Workforce Commission said the agency did not send the governor’s office any “pre-release” data for October until Thursday afternoon.

The commission released October’s workforce data Friday morning, and federal Bureau of Labor Statistics rules require that the data be kept confidential until its official public release.

A press release issued Friday by the workforce commission used language similar to that used in Abbott’s tweet to note that October’s 3.9 percent statewide jobless rate set a record “for the lowest unemployment rate recorded in four decades.”

The rate had ticked down from 4.0 percent in September. However, the statewide jobless rate last hit 4.0 percent in December 2000, not 40 years ago, according to data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, which compiles state and local workforce numbers in conjunction with state agencies.

As for Abbott’s reference to job creation, Texas employers cut 5,000 jobs in September, a decline attributed to impact of Hurricane Harvey.

The governor’s office said the tweet referred to year-over-year job growth for September. Texas added 258,400 jobs in that 12-month span, trailing California’s 278,400 added jobs, according to the bureau’s data. (However, the 2.1 percent job-growth rate here exceeded California’s 1.7 percent increase.)

Texas did lead all the states in year-over-year job growth in October, adding 316,100 jobs since the same month last year. California added 256,800 jobs over the same 12-month period.

UPDATE: In a statement Saturday, Abbott’s spokeswoman Ciara Matthews told the American-Statesman that the governor’s tweet was based on a Nov. 8 newspaper story about private-sector jobs data. 

“The governor’s Wednesday tweet was in reference to a San Antonio Express-News story, and data from Automatic Data Processing Inc., that reported days before Texas created more jobs than any other state in the month of October,” Matthews said. 

The Express-News story cited the monthly report produced by ADP, a payroll processing company, which said private-sector employers in Texas added 25,050 new jobs in October, leading all states. 

Neither the ADP report nor the story cited by the governor’s office include information about public-sector hiring. In addition, neither made reference to the state’s unemployment rate, which was mentioned in the governor’s tweet.

It’s common and appropriate for state workforce commissions to share “pre-release” data with governors’ offices and other officials, said Cheryl Abbot, regional economist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics Southwest regional office. However, she said, the bureau considers the data confidential until their official release.

The governor’s office said no early information was given to Gov. Abbott. Workforce commission spokeswoman Lisa Givens said pre-release data for October wasn’t sent to the governor’s office until 2:53 p.m. Thursday, and then only to an “individual who has a BLS confidentiality agreement.”

Givens said the commission only shares pre-release information with an individual who has signed such an agreement. “This has always been TWC’s protocol and are BLS rules,” she said.

If the governor’s tweet referred to the October numbers, it would represent a minor breach of confidentiality requirements expected by the bureau.

“It was a big deal for Texas, but there weren’t any numbers or details put out,” said Abbot, the bureau economist. “It was relatively minor, but I’m assuming someone with our federal-state operations division … will likely be contacting the Texas Workforce Commission and discussing the rules.”

Accidental releases aren’t uncommon, she said, happening maybe once a year across the 11-state region of which Texas is a part. She said the bureau simply reaches out to clarify policy with state officials.



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