Members of the middle class know how to count. That’s why a report by the Ohio River Valley Institute claiming the gas industry didn’t produce meaningful jobs caught our eye right away.
The Ohio River Valley Institute painted a bleak picture of 22 selected Marcellus Shale counties in three states and reported that most of them lagged in job growth between 2008 and 2019.
How could this be possible?
As it turns out, it wasn’t. The report, guided by what we suspect was a preset agenda, failed to count two-thirds of net new jobs created since 2008, and even went back into the report to make sure certain jobs weren’t counted.
Here’s how they did it:
Instead of using figures from the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis, the self-described researchers used quarterly reports from the Department of Labor. The first figures from BEA count all jobs; the latter ones from DOL exclude self-employment, unpaid family employment and any job that doesn’t qualify for unemployment compensation benefits.
In short, a report that purported to study the broad economic effect of the Marcellus-Utica Shale gas industry in 22 core drilling counties, then used data from a set not designed to count all the jobs. ORVI quietly withdrew its original Feb. 10 report and reissued a new version on Feb. 12 after questions from Pittsburgh Works Together, pointing out data discrepancies.
ORVI said the reissue was necessary “to correct a data transcription error that did not significantly affect the findings.” Among other changes, the reissued report substituted Department of Labor jobs data for any BEA jobs data that was included in the original version.
Let’s look at Lycoming County, Pa. The original report said the county gained more than 600 jobs in the last 10 years. The revised report claimed it lost nearly 800. Those are serious numbers in a county of 113,000 population.
This isn’t merely a squabble among policy nerds. To get an idea of what’s at stake, the Labor Department says there were 148.1 million jobs in the U.S. last year. The Commerce Department’s BEA says the more accurate number is 203.1 million. When you’re trying to decide the economic course of a nation, state or region, a discrepancy like that matters.
The problem here is that most of the counties measured are largely rural. Some, such as the ones in eastern Ohio, have struggled for 40 years as manufacturing economies collapsed. As population declined, every job took on an increased significance. And many of them are startups and “gig” economy jobs.
The Department of Labor data exclude precisely the kinds of jobs one would expect to grow around the periphery of the drilling industry.
Imagine a woman who starts using her own truck to haul drilling gear, or a family that opens a food truck to service job sites, or a sales representative who only earns a commission by selling supplies to industry.
None of those jobs would be included in the Department of Labor figures. But they are, indeed, jobs. And they would have been counted but for one reason: They didn’t fit ORVI’s anti-natural gas agenda.
Our group, Pittsburgh Works Together, is an alliance of unions, business and civic leaders who labor under no delusion about the economic challenges ahead for every sector. We embrace the green future as well as the industrial, and we know that progress is not always a straight line on a graph.
But we also know that facts matter. We know we can’t develop sound policy and regulation if facts are manipulated to meet a predetermined outcome.
When any group or organization — including ours — decides to conduct and release studies or research that’s designed to influence public opinion and government policy, we have an obligation to get it right and report results as they are — not as we wish them to be.
Jeff Nobers is executive director of Pittsburgh Works Together, a nonpartisan alliance of labor unions, business and civic leaders working for an all-of-the-above agenda for job creation.