PoliGraph: DFL chair’s jobs numbers right

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When DFL Party Chair Ken Martin and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak got together this week for a conference call with reporters, they stressed several points the Obama campaign has been using to attack Republican candidate Mitt Romney on his jobs record as governor of Massachusetts.

Among them was this one:

“Massachusetts dropped from 36th all the way down to 47th in job creation when he was governor,” said Martin.

Martin’s numbers are right, but the claim deserves some context.

The Evidence

Romney has made his job creation record while governor of Massachusetts a cornerstone of his campaign.

But the Obama camp, including Martin, maintains Romney wasn’t as successful as he says.

Massachusetts was ranked 35th in job growth between 1998 and 2002, the four years before Romney took office, and dropped to 47th while Romney was governor, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data compiled by the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.

In the four years after Romney left office, Massachusetts ranked 11th.

So, Martin’s numbers are right on. But is it fair to blame Romney for these declines?

Not exactly, say economists in Massachusetts who also followed Romney’s career.

First, the 2001-2002 recession was especially hard on Massachusetts, says Andy Bagley who is director of research and public affairs for the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.

“We had a substantial amount of venture capital investment in a lot of internet related-type companies, so when the internet bubble burst, we lost about 200,000 jobs,” Bagley said. “We were one of five states that never recovered those 200,000 jobs fully before the next recession in 2008 and 2009.”

Bagley also said that a governor shouldn’t be blamed completely for job losses – or completely take credit for job gains.

Jeannette Wicks-Lim, a labor economist at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst agreed and pointed out that the same dynamic is playing out on a national level. Efforts by the Obama administration can affect job growth, but those efforts can be derailed by international forces.

“The economic and political turmoil in Europe over the future of the Eurozone and the slowdown in China’s economic growth, for example, legitimately fuel anxiety over the future growth in the U.S. Downturns overseas will have a negative impact on our national economy,” Wicks-Lim said.

Massachusetts’ ranking was far more impressive after he left office, but that was largely due to the fact that the state’s workforce was far less damaged by the second recession of 2008 and 2009, Bagley explained.

While job growth in states highly reliant on housing construction and retail declined compared to other states, Massachusetts’ jobs numbers remained relatively stable because the state’s economy has never relied much on housing development, Bagley said.

Ultimately both sides in the campaign will try to use jobs as an issue. And these economists say that job growth wasn’t exactly stellar under Romney’s tenure. Jobs grew by a net 30,000 over his four years in office, which Bagley said is “nothing to campaign on.”

“There’s nothing in Romney’s record as governor that shows that he is a job creator,” said Kevin Lang, an economics professor at Boston University. “The claim ‘Look at my record in Massachusetts, I know how to create jobs,’ is not borne out by the data.”

The Verdict

Martin’s numbers are correct. And while it’s not entirely fair to pin blame on Romney for Massachusetts’ dismal jobs ranking during his tenure, economists point out that Massachusetts didn’t add many jobs while Romney was governor, either.

This claim leans toward accurate.

SOURCES

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Non-Farm Seasonally Adjusted, accessed June 14, 2012

Factcheck.org, Romney’s shaky jobs claim, By Lori Robertson and Robert Farley, Jan. 5, 2012

The Wall Street Journal, Obama Camp Attacks Romney’s Record in Massachusetts, By Laura Meckler, May 31, 2012

The Boston Globe, Romney’s economic record, By Andrew Sum and Joseph McLaughlin, July 29, 2007

PolitiFact.com, David Axelrod repeats claim that Massachusetts under Mitt Romney ranked 47th in job growth, Sunday, June 3rd, 2012, by Louis Jacobson

Interview, Andy Bagley, Director of Research and Public Affairs, Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, June 14, 2012

Interview, Kevin Lang, economics professor, Boston University, June 14, 2012

E-mail, Jeannette Wicks-Lim, labor economist, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, June 15, 2012

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