Romney’s dubious explanation for slow Massachusetts job growth (Fact Checker biography)

at 11:00 AM ET, 11/04/2011


(Win McNamee, Getty Images)

“As the governor of Massachusetts, when I came in, jobs were being lost month after month after month. We turned that around. We were able to add jobs, balance our budget and get Massachusetts back on track. And, by the way, our unemployment was below the federal level three of the four years I was in office.”

— Mitt Romney, during the Republican debate in Ames, Iowa, Aug. 11, 2011

Chris Wallace: “Job growth during your years in office was the third lowest of any state in the nation. And manufacturing employment declined more than 14 percent — the third-worst in the country. Governor, why should voters think that you’re going to do any better for the country’s economy than you did for your own state of Massachusetts?”

Mitt Romney: “Massachusetts is a high-tech state and a capital goods state. And that’s a sector of the economy that responds very slowly to turnarounds, and so we worked very hard to re-stimulate the economy there and to encourage job growth.

“I came into a state that had no pipeline, no sales force. Believe it or not, they had literally no sales force that called on companies and encouraged them to come into the state. There was no activity of any significance to bring jobs to the state. And we went to work, the legislature and I, to try and change that.”

— Exchange between Mitt Romney and “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace, Jan. 20, 2008

The comments we’ve highlighted here come from two very separate discussions, but they deal with a common theme: Romney on jobs.

The remarks from Iowa show the former governor casting himself in a familiar light — as a turnaround artist who can put any troubled house in order. For what it’s worth, he’s earned a prized Geppetto Checkmark and a Verdict Pending this week — albeit with certain caveats — for remarks with the same basic premise.

The exchange from “Fox News Sunday,” although admittedly dated, illustrates some of the excuses Romney has made for anemic job growth in Massachusetts during his time as governor.

Romney has never disputed that his state ranked 47th in the nation for job growth during his administration, although his GOP rivals have grilled him on the subject many times during this year’s debates. Instead, he has cast the facts in a positive light, describing a lemons-to-lemonade type of turnaround.

This is a pattern for Romney, who shows signs of being a polished politician in this, his fourth, run for public office. He generally appears well aware of the facts behind his record and is good at spinning them in his favor.

Romney has backed away from making excuses for his state’s lagging employment numbers. We couldn’t readily find an instance from 2011 of him referring to the same factors — the manufacturing- and tech-based economy and the supposed lack of a sales force to attract new jobs — for slow job growth in Massachusetts.

We’ve mentioned before that elected officials can’t control all the variables affecting the economy, so they shouldn’t have to answer for all that transpires in that arena. But these types of statements deserve scrutiny, especially when candidates trumpet their supposed successes.

The Facts

Massachusetts lost jobs three months in a row before Romney took office, and it ended with a net gain by the time he left, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In addition, the state’s unemployment rate climbed from 3.7 to 5.3 percent in the two years before Romney’s term began. The unemployment rate dropped about one percentage point at the three-year mark of his administration, so the former governor did indeed “turn that job decline around” after 2.5 years.

But the state’s jobless rate stayed the same during Romney’s final year as governor, and Massachusetts leapt from 29th highest to 17th in unemployment. Clearly the Bay State wasn’t keeping pace with other parts of the country.

Romney was correct that Massachusetts fared better than the nation as a whole during most of his term. BLS data shows that the state had a slightly lower unemployment rate during the first three years of his administration.

That’s pretty cold comfort considering politicians are supposed to improve their economies over time. The last thing they want is to see a slowdown during the last year of a term.

Romney’s comments suggest Massachusetts had little in place to attract new jobs when his administration started. News accounts verify that he and the legislature did indeed establish a sales force to entice companies to set up shop in the state, and that the number of companies considering the state jumped from 13 to 288 during the former governor’s tenure.

Romney claims the results were slow to appear because Massachusetts relies so heavily on manufacturing and tech. But other states that depend on those industries boosted their employment numbers with greater success.

We looked at Indiana, which placed first on a list of top manufacturing states based on manufacturing gross domestic product as a percentage of overall state GDP. The Hoosier State increased employment by 2.8 percent from 2002 through 2007, representing the year before Romney took office and the year he left.

That compares to job growth of less than 1 percent for Massachusetts during the same period. Iowa, which ranked second on the list, increased employment by about 5 percent, while Oregon, ranked fifth, added 9 percent.

To be fair about manufacturing, traditional Rust Belt heavyweights Ohio and Michigan lost .3 percent and 4.9 percent, respectively.

We looked at tech-heavy states such as Virginia (7.7 percent growth), Maryland (5.2 percent) and California (5 percent), each of which has a similar concentration of tech jobs to Massachusetts. All showed vastly more employment than the Bay State during Romney’s term.

We also checked North Carolina for good measure. The state has a lower concentration of tech employment, but it is home to the renowned Research Triangle, which rivals the Massachusetts tech corridor nicknamed “128” (after the state highway running through the area).

North Carolina, just like the other states, fared better than Massachusetts, adding 8 percent to its employment ranks.

So what happened after Romney left office? Was Massachusetts just waiting for his policy fruits to ripen? It’s impossible to know, because of the global economic calamity that occurred after he left.

All we can do is ponder what-ifs, but one thing is for sure: Jobs didn’t “continue to come year after year after year” in Massachusetts, as the former governor suggested at one point during his Fox interview.

Still, Romney’s campaign stands by his claims.

“By the end of his term, Massachusetts was creating thousands of jobs each month after the state was losing them when he came in,” said campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul. “He balanced the budget after inheriting a $3 billion deficit and put in place initiatives to attract companies to Massachusetts, and set the foundation for job growth.”

The Pinocchio Test

Romney drew a somewhat false connection between his state’s anemic job growth and its dependence on the manufacturing and tech industries. That excuse doesn’t fly when other states with similar economies fared better during the same period. Besides, the governor could have taken steps to diversify the economy if that was an issue. Instead he sought more tech companies.

It’s true that Romney turned around a negative trend in employment for Massachusetts and that the state experienced continued gains for several months after he took office. But the numbers didn’t improve as they did for most other states, and they lagged behind the national average during the fourth year — the height of his administration — and beyond.

Overall, the former Bay State governor misled listeners a bit with his turnaround claims. This time around, he earns one Pinocchio.

One Pinocchio

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    About the Blogger

    Glenn Kessler has covered foreign policy, economic policy, the White House, Congress, politics, airline safety and Wall Street.

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