A new Obama campaign ad claims the Massachusetts economy actually fared poorly during Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s four years as governor, challenging the notion that Romney knows how to fix the nation’s ailing economy.
The ad says that between 2003 and 2007, Massachusetts had one of the worst economic records in the country, lost 40,000 manufacturing jobs at “a rate twice the national average, and fell to 47th in job creation.”
The Obama campaign has been highlighting Massachusetts low 2007 ranking in job creation for months, and PolitiFact has independently verified the claim.
Romney maintains his record was a bit better than that. But no one disputes that job creation during his term was pretty lackluster.
“If you take a look at the job creation experience of Massachusetts between 2003 and 2007, I don’t think there is any way of getting around the fact that it was disappointing,” says Michael Goodman, who teaches public policy at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.
Massachusetts was at the tail end of a brutal recession when Romney took office, according to Goodman. Heavily dependent on information technology, the state had been devastated by the dot-com bust.
“We fell first and harder and faster. And so when Romney took office in early 2003, Massachusetts was still struggling, even though the nation for the most part had moved on from that experience,” Goodman says.
During his term, Romney worked to try to bring businesses to the state, eventually persuading Bristol-Myers Squibb to relocate to an abandoned military base. Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom told ABC’s This Week on Sunday that by the time the governor left office, the unemployment rate had fallen from 5.6 to 4.7 percent.
“I have no doubt that President Obama would happily trade his 8.2 percent unemployment rate for Mitt Romney’s 4.7 percent,” Fehrnstrom said.
But the low unemployment rate obscures some facts.
There is no question the Massachusetts economy grew under Romney. With its highly educated population, the state gained a lot of white-collar jobs, especially in finance, technology and health care.
But like many states, it was also losing manufacturing jobs. Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, says this did not start under Romney. With its high wages and high cost of living, the state had been bleeding factory jobs for at least three decades.
In the end, Massachusetts added only about 50,000 jobs during Romney’s term as governor, placing the state near the bottom in job creation.
Why did the unemployment rate fall anyway? It was partly because a lot of people moved away. During Romney’s term, Massachusetts was one of only four states to lose population. When people move away, there are fewer job-seekers and the unemployment rate falls.
Widmer says this isn’t necessarily Romney’s fault. The state fell victim to forces beyond its control. But Romney also did not do much to reverse the trends.
“The reality, of course, is that governors don’t have a lot of control over creation of jobs in one term, either on the upside or the downside,” Widmer says.
Presidents may not always have much power over the economy either. But candidates for president like to tell voters they can make a difference, and voters tend to judge them on whether they do.