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Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson June 8, 2012

Barack Obama ad says manufacturing jobs fared worse in Massachusetts under Romney

President Barack Obama’s campaign took aim at Mitt Romney’s economic record as governor of Massachusetts in a television ad released June 4, 2012. The campaign is paying a reported $10 million to air the ad in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

One of the claims: "When Mitt Romney was governor, Massachusetts lost 40,000 manufacturing jobs, a rate twice the national average."

We'll examine this claim in two parts: Are the numbers right? And is Romney to blame?

We turned to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the government’s official source of employment data. We looked at state-level, seasonally adjusted data for manufacturing jobs during Romney’s tenure, which ran from January 2003 to January 2007.

Over that period, Massachusetts manufacturing jobs declined from 336,000 to 298,200 -- a difference of 38,000 jobs. It’s not 40,000, but it’s close.

As for the second part of the claim -- the rate of decrease -- Massachusetts manufacturing jobs fell by 11.3 percent over the four-year period. The drop for the nation was 5.8 percent. That means the Massachusetts decline was nearly twice that of the nation as the ad claimed.

So the Obama campaign is right on the numbers. But is Romney to blame?

What happened before and after Romney?

In supporting material for the ad, the Obama campaign argues that Romney’s manufacturing-employment record in Massachusetts represents a departure from the four-year periods before and after his tenure.

In the four years before Romney took office, the manufacturing job decline was slightly outpacing the national rate, down 16.7 percent in Massachusetts compared with a national rate of 14.7.

After Romney, the Massachusetts decline was 15.1 percent vs. 17 nationally.

The Obama camp has a point that Massachusetts’ decline only diverged significantly from the national rate during Romney’s tenure. However, looking at the numbers before and after Romney’s term also reveals that the manufacturing job loss under Romney (11.3 percent) was slower than it was in either the previous four-year period (16.7 percent) or the successive four-year period (15.1 percent). This weakens the Obama campaign’s argument.

Who gets the blame?

This is an issue we've addressed often with governors from many states. As we’ve noted before, economists have consistently told us that policies of a governor have a relatively modest impact on a state's economy.

"Presidents, governors, and mayors can have an impact on job creation during their terms in office," said Gary Burtless, an economist with the Brookings Institution. "Almost always, however, the impact is small in relation to the effects of events and trends over which elected officials have little control, especially in their first few years on the job. A recession that is underway or begins soon after a president or governor takes office is in no way the fault of the new officeholder. The flip side is that chief executives cannot claim much credit for a strong economic recovery that begins shortly before or after they take the oath of office. The conditions that made the recovery possible were already present when their term in office began. The executive’s policies may have speeded or slowed the recovery around the margins, but the conditions that caused the recovery to begin were already present before the oath of office was administered."
(As we’ve noted before, Burtless contributed $750 to Obama’s campaign in 2011. However, in 2008 he provided advice on aspects of labor policy to the presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and he has worked as a government economist and served on federal advisory panels under presidents of both parties.)

The Obama campaign points out that in 2005 and 2006, Romney vetoed spending allocations to the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership, a state- and federally funded organization that aids smaller manufacturing companies. However, as the Obama campaign also acknowledges, the Democratic controlled legislature overrode Romney’s veto and restored funding to the partnership. So while Romney’s vetoes may show something about the then-governor’s opinion of public-private efforts to boost the manufacturing sector, they don’t speak to the claim we’re checking, which addresses job growth on his watch. Once funding was restored, Romney received "credit" in the job statistics for any employment impact that the partnership may have fostered.

The long-term decline of manufacturing

Manufacturing -- for a variety of reasons, ranging from the expansion of free trade to patterns of educational attainment to the emergence of new sectors such as information technology -- has nosedived throughout the nation during the past 50 years.

Here's how manufacturing’s share of private sector jobs has declined every 10 years over the past half-century:

1962: 33 percent
1972: 29 percent
1982: 24 percent
1992: 19 percent
2002: 14 percent
2012: 11 percent

The numbers for Massachusetts look similar (data is only available since 1990):

1992: 16 percent
2002: 11 percent
2012: 8 percent

Our ruling

The Obama campaign’s numbers check out: Manufacturing jobs did decline at a steeper rate on Romney’s watch than they did nationally. Still, it’s a stretch to lay at Romney’s feet the decline of manufacturing jobs in Massachusetts. His policies had a relatively small impact compared with the decades-long trend beyond the control of any politician. And the rate of decline under Romney was actually slower than it was before and after he took office. On balance, we rate the claim Half True.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

Barack Obama presidential campaign, "We've Heard it All Before" (television ad), June 4, 2012

Bureau of Labor Statistics, main index page for "Employment, Hours, and Earnings - State and Metro Area (Current Employment Statistics - CES)," accessed June 7, 2012

Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Employment, Hours, and Earnings from the Current Employment Statistics survey (National)" (main index page) accessed June 7, 2012

CBS News, "New Obama ad continues assault on Romney's Massachusetts record," June 4, 2012
PolitiFact, "Steve Moore says ratio of people working in government, manufacturing is 'an almost exact reversal' of pattern in 1960," April 6, 2011

Interview with Gary Burtless, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, Feb. 28, 2012

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Barack Obama ad says manufacturing jobs fared worse in Massachusetts under Romney

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