Rarely has American politics seen a governor so unpopular amid so many economic accomplishments. Bobby Jindal’s home-state approval rating has remained mired in the 30s in most polls for more than a year — but by almost every measure of state financial health during the Jindal years, Louisiana has made great strides.
Start with the most basic measure of economic health: total jobs. Beginning when Jindal took office in January 2008, and despite the deep national economic downturn that plagued the United States for several years in between, Louisiana through August (the most recent measure available) had added a net of 78,400 new, private-sector jobs during Jindal’s tenure. The private sector job growth of 5 percent in those 79 months ranked Louisiana fifth in the nation.
The year-over-year job count has grown for 47 consecutive months. The state’s unemployment rate has been below the national average every month of Jindal’s tenure. (It never exceeded 7.8 percent, even when unemployment nationally hit 10 percent.) And total nonfarm payroll employment, at 1,983,200, is at the state’s highest point ever. (All the numbers were catalogued by the Jindal administration, but all come from official, definitive sources such as the national Bureau of Labor Statistics.)
The strong economy is attracting people to the state. For six years in a row, more people have moved into Louisiana than have moved away, with population growth of 250,000 (up to 4,625,470) in that span. Better, the newcomers and the locals alike aren’t just doing low-end jobs. Per capita personal income statewide has grown by $5,388, or 15 percent, during the past six years, and at $41,204 is at its highest level ever.
Much of this success comes from remarkable, ongoing and even accelerating private capital investment, more than $54 billion worth (including projects in development) since Jindal took office. CenturyLink is adding 1,100 new jobs in Monroe, IBM 800 jobs in Baton Rouge, and Sasol’s natural gas facility near Lake Charles is forecast to bring 7,000 new jobs (direct or indirect). In August, Business Facilities magazine rated Louisiana’s business climate the best in the whole nation; three other similar magazines rank Louisiana in the top 10 — as does national location-marketing firm DCI in a rating released Oct. 20, marking an improvement of 20 spots since 2011.
All of which, in total economic terms, has meant real Gross Domestic Product growth for Louisiana of $44.6 billion. Even after adjusting for inflation, that number is $17.98 billion, or 8.8 percent, which is an astonishing 86 percent faster than national real GDP growth since January 2008.
Now, it must be said that governors usually get too much credit (or blame) for their states’ economies. State legislators make policy, too, and plenty of other factors (weather, national economic trends, etc.) also leave their marks. On the other hand, Louisiana’s governorship is usually seen as a particularly “strong” one (meaning the state’s constitution or traditions give him more power vis-à-vis the Legislature than in other states), and on most economic matters Jindal indeed has been able to implement the policies of his choice.
To the extent that policy and sound administration are responsible for any state’s economy, then, Louisiana’s economic performance is thoroughly intertwined with Jindal’s performance in office.
So … if the state’s economy is doing so well, it is rather bizarre for Jindal to be so unpopular. Yet, as I wrote a few weeks ago, Jindal (especially in his second term) “never built coalitions to help implement the policies, spent little time seeking public support, and thus secured no ‘buy-in’ from others who could help him take responsibility (and the flak) from those who didn’t like the changes” he implemented.
Usually, when people use the phrase “style over substance,” they mean a slick persona is hiding poor performance. With Jindal, it’s just the opposite: Poor style seems to be obscuring some remarkable successes he has achieved for the people he is elected to serve.
With more than a year left to serve, and with court cases and federal administrative actions pending on multiple fronts, Jindal’s final legacy as governor is far from being written. But, whether most Louisianans appreciate it, Jindal’s performance probably has fattened their wallets.
New Orleans native Quin Hillyer is a contributing editor for National Review. You can follow him on Twitter, @QuinHillyer. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and he blogs at blogs. theadvocate.com/quin-essential.