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Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson September 5, 2012

Did Mitt Romney's Massachusetts rank 47th in job creation?

Repeating a favorite talking point, speakers at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., took aim at Mitt Romney’s job-creation record as governor of Massachusetts.

"By the time he left office, Massachusetts was 47th in the nation in job creation," said Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, the Democrat who succeeded Romney in 2006.

This claim has been an old chestnut on the campaign trail since last year; we first rated it when President Barack Obama’s campaign adviser, David Axelrod, made it in June 2011. We rated it Half True then, and Half True again a year later. It became such a common talking point for Democrats the Romney campaign came up with a counterattack -- that Massachusetts under Romney initially ranked last among states in job growth, but by the end of his governorship, "we were in the middle of the pack." We gave this claim a Half True as well.

As usual, we will follow our usual approach of looking at the claim in two parts: First, are the numbers correct, and second, how much was the change because of Romney's policies?

We used state-level statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the federal government’s official source of employment data. We used figures for non-farm jobs, seasonally adjusted. And because the Massachusetts governor takes office in early January, we used the data for December of each year as a baseline.

We found that from December 2002 to December 2006, Massachusetts ranked 47th out of 50 states (not including the District of Columbia) in job growth. (We calculated that by using the number of jobs at the beginning and end of the period for each state to determine the percentage change and then ranking the states.) Only Ohio, Louisiana and Michigan fared worse.

So the number is correct.

But does Romney deserve credit for the job situation? This is an issue we've addressed often at PolitiFact with governors from many states. Economists have consistently told us that policies of a governor have a relatively small impact on a state's economy.

For instance, the country was coming out of a recession when Romney took office. And it's likely that Massachusetts emerged more slowly from that recession because its pre-recession numbers were disproportionately inflated by the technology bubble, said Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, an independent group that analyzes fiscal trends in the state. A lot of those tech jobs never came back.

Widmer warned us when we first looked at Axelrod’s 47th-in-the-nation claim in June 2011 not to put too much stock in any governor's influence over their state's rate of job growth. The ability for governors to manage the state economy is vastly overrated, Widmer said. States are tied to larger economic forces, he added, and governors often claim too much credit when things are going well and no blame when things are going poorly.

Gary Burtless, an economist with the Brookings Institution, echoed that point.

"Presidents, governors, and mayors can have an impact on job creation during their terms in office," he said. "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.)

Our rating

It’s correct that Massachusetts ranked 47th of 50 in job creation on Romney’s watch. However, the Obama camp -- like the Romney camp in its rebuttal -- exaggerates Romney’s influence on the state job market. Governors simply don't have that much impact. We rated this claim Half True more than a year ago, and today, we still think it merits a Half True.

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Did Mitt Romney's Massachusetts rank 47th in job creation?

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