The Obama campaign this week launched an attack on Mitt Romney’s record as Massachusetts governor, calling particular attention to his records on jobs. We will fact check this latest Web video in detail in the coming days, but we came up with an interesting way to compare the job creation records of both men.
First a caveat: Attributing “job creation” to a politician, particularly a regional one, is a dicey proposition. The economy plays a huge role in the success or failure of various job initiatives. It takes time for policies to take effect, so a politician may reap the benefits of projects undertaken by his predecessor — or see his successor reap the rewards from his or her ideas.
A stronger case can be made that a president has more control over the economy than a governor, but we still think it is silly to date his job record from the moment he takes the oath of office. Nevertheless, that is the common political metric.
Take a look at the chart above, which uses seasonally adjusted Bureau of Labor Statistics employment data to show the change in the level of employment during the first 40 months of each man’s tenure as governor or president.
The similarities are actually more striking than the differences. Both men took office as the economy was plunging, but the hole (in percentage terms) turned out to be much deeper for Obama. The jobs picture started to turn around for both men at about the same time, but because Romney’s job deficit was comparatively smaller, he moved into positive territory sooner — though it still took him 36 months.
As we have noted before, Romney’s record was weaker than other governors of similar states in the same time period. But that could be due to factors unique to Massachusetts.
We initially used data through April of the fourth year, but we will try to update this chart as new employment data are released each month. (NOTE: It has now been updated with the May data — the 41st month — which interestingly also showed a dip for Romney.) For Romney, we used data for total nonfarm employment starting January 2003, and for Obama we used data starting January 2009. (The Massachusetts governor takes office on Jan. 2; the president on Jan. 20, but starting both data sets in January keeps it consistent.)
Obviously, the number of jobs in the United States is higher than in Massachusetts, so with the help of Tableau Public we converted the figures into percentage changes, using the January figure as a base. That way, the two data streams could be placed in the same chart and easily compared..
We were inspired to look into this data after reading an interesting column by our colleague Greg Sargent, who noted that the Romney campaign in the same news release this week managed to credit Romney with inheriting an economy that was losing jobs while blasting Obama for a “net” job loss as president.
The Bottom Line
Neither man has a great record on job creation, but both took office in tough economic times. The scope of the challenge facing Obama appears to have been bigger, but Romney can claim he moved into positive territory faster. Still, it is no secret why both prefer to talk about their opponent’s jobs record than their own.
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