Mixed job picture when Romney was Mass. governor

Associated Press
Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney holds a town meeting at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011.  (AP Photo/Cheryl Senter)
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BOSTON (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney frequently boasts how he and his team "were able to turn around the job losses" in Massachusetts during his single term as governor.

A closer look at his record shows that while the state's jobless numbers did improve during Romney's four years on Beacon Hill, gains and losses varied wildly depending on the sector of the economy and the kind of job being sought.

While business leaders have praised Romney for taking steps such as streamlining the state's permitting process, many also fault him for increasing business costs by pushing to close more than $300 million in what Romney described as corporate "loopholes." They say that move may have depressed job growth.

How much credit Romney should get for the overall uptick in jobs still is debated in Boston, five years after his term ended.

When Romney was sworn in as governor in January 2003, Massachusetts was reeling from the end of the dot.com bubble. With an economy more pegged to technology than most states, Massachusetts took longer to recover.

At the time, the state's unemployment rate was at 5.6 percent, compared with a low of 2.8 percent just two years earlier.

The jobless rate would keep rising through Romney's first year in office, topping out at 6 percent in August of his first year.

By December 2006, Romney's last full month in office, it had fallen to 4.7 percent.

A drop of less than 1 percent, meaning the addition of about 40,000 jobs, may seem like a modest achievement. Still, Romney has tried to make the most of it.

"That's a record that I think the president would like to see," Romney said at a recent debate. "As a matter of fact we created more jobs in Massachusetts than this president has created in this entire country."

Where those Massachusetts jobs were being created is a story in itself.

The steepest drop during Romney's tenure came in manufacturing. The number of manufacturing jobs fell by 11.4 percent, extending a historic slide in a state whose mill towns once provided the fuel for the economic engine.

Other areas that saw declines during Romney's term were jobs in publishing, movies, broadcasting and data processing, which fell by 7.1 percent, and in warehousing and utilities, which fell by 2.7 percent.

The strongest job growth was at the higher end of the wage scale. Professional and business services grew by 7.1 percent, education and health services by 6.8 percent, and the leisure and hospitality area by 4.7 percent.

Part of that growth can be attributed to Massachusetts' role as a national leader in health care, a role strengthened by the state's landmark health insurance law signed by Romney in 2006.

It served as a blueprint for the federal health overhaul signed by President Barack Obama four years later.

The health care sector is one of the largest in Massachusetts, employing more workers than manufacturing, financial services, retail trade or construction.

Under Romney, the state added about 32,000 health care and social assistance jobs, an increase of 7.6 percent, for a total of about 456,700 jobs in the sector by the time he left office.

One area that saw little overall change was the number of public employees.

A drop in the number of federal workers in Massachusetts during Romney's years in office was more than made up for with a 2.7 percent increase in workers on the state payroll, or more than 3,000 jobs, and a smaller increase in the number of local government employees.

Overall, there were about 430,600 government workers in Massachusetts when Romney's term ended.

Michael Widmer, president of the business-backed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, described Romney's jobs record as "mixed," saying Romney failed to take the long view in his planning.

"The administration never really put together an overall economic development strategy to improve the state's economic competitiveness," he said. "They did bits and pieces but they never really had an overall game plan."

While he credited individual members of the administration for working to persuade companies in Massachusetts to stay and expand, Widmer said Romney's presidential ambitions sometimes undermined that effort. Romney unsuccessful sought the GOP's White House nomination in 2008.

"By the last year and a half of his term, he was out around the country bashing Massachusetts, which wasn't very helpful," Widmer said, pointing out that the state ranked 47th in job growth during Romney's tenure.

Richard Lord, president of Associated Industries of Massachusetts, credited Romney with helping ease the state's byzantine permitting process by creating "one-stop shopping" for businesses hoping to grow.

"I think overall generally I would give him a pretty good grade," Lord said. "He really cared about the business climate here and making sure it was a good place for businesses to locate."

Jim Stergios, executive director of the Pioneer Institute, a conservative-leaning Boston-based think tank, worked in the Romney administration but gives the ex-governor a mixed grade.

Stergios is most critical of Romney's focus on closing corporate "loopholes," which the overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature welcomed.

"While each loophole may have been justified in the mind of someone in the budget office, if you take that cumulatively, it sends a message to the business community that we're coming to you to solve some of our budget issues," he said.

The recovery in Massachusetts during Romney's tenure was slower than the nation as a whole.

When Romney was sworn in, the national unemployment rate was 5.7 percent, just slightly higher than Massachusetts' jobless number that month. Four years later the national unemployment rate had fallen to 4.5 percent, slightly lower than Massachusetts.

Romney's presidential campaign argues that when the national and state unemployment rates during that four-year window are averaged out, Massachusetts fared slightly better than the nation as a whole.

They also note that per capita personal income grew in Massachusetts during the four years Romney was in office, from $40,264 in 2003 to $47,559 in 2006.

Not surprisingly, the chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, John Walsh, takes a dimmer view of Romney's jobs record. He said that as least a part of the reason the unemployment rate dropped was that the state was losing population.

"Mitt had a way of solving the economic situation in Massachusetts," Walsh said. "He evacuated Massachusetts."

Romney's own job history has been a mix of the public and private sector.

From 1984 to 1999, he was CEO of Bain Capital, a venture capital firm. From 1999 to 2002 he served as chairman of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the Winter Olympic Games before being elected Massachusetts governor that same year.

Since leaving office in January 2007, Romney has spent virtually all his time running or planning to run for president.

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