Actually, the math really does add up


Steve Abbott

The following is part of a continuing series analyzing advertisements by political candidates this campaign season.

Race, party: Gubernatorial, Republican

TV ad: “Math that doesn’t add up”

Length: 30 seconds

Producer: Abbott campaign

Sponsor: Abbott campaign

Market: Statewide, television

Announcer: Abbott does the talking

Text, audio and visuals: Abbott, wearing a plain blue Oxford shirt, uses a white board to write the number of net new jobs created in Maine from 1999 to 2009 and the net number of new welfare enrollees from 2005 to 2010.

The state has created 56 new jobs over the last 10 years and enrolled 109,000 more people on welfare, according to Abbott, who says, “the math doesn’t add up.”

“We need to reform our welfare system and we need to get Mainers back to work,” he says.

Purpose: To show Republican primary voters that Abbott wants to reform welfare and point out that current state leadership hasn’t been effective at this.

Accuracy: First, the jobs number. Abbott’s spot cites research from former state economist Charlie Colgan, professor at the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service, when it references the 56 net new jobs number. It was part of Colgan’s annual economic forecast, presented in January 2010.

According to Colgan, the job creation numbers have been revised since his research, as is typical of employment figures. Maine actually had about 1,860 more jobs at the end of 2009 than it did at the end of 1999, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Now for the welfare numbers. Abbott uses a report from Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services that keeps track of Maine enrollment in five different federally-based programs, including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, food stamps and pair of government programs that provide additional money to parents going to school or those seeking job training. The reports he cites compare the overall enrollment numbers from Jan. 2005 to March 2010 and he is absolutely correct that there are about 109,000 more enrollees over the time period.

About 80,000 of those individuals are enrolled in the food stamp program, where benefits are 100 percent paid for by the federal government. State officials said traditionally, enrollment in the food stamps program increases as the economy worsens. The state and national economies were much better in 2005 than in 2010. For example, in 2005, the average unemployment rate in Maine was about 5 percent; so far in 2010, it’s about 8.2 percent.

Our view: Abbott’s numbers are correct, the growth in the number of people on “welfare” has dwarfed job creation. We’re just not sure how Abbott wants us to connect these two numbers.

State records show that most of the increase has been in food stamps, and most of that growth has mirrored the worsening economy.

We are puzzled by Abbott’s assertion that “The math doesn’t add up.”

Doesn’t it? If there is little job creation and the unemployment rate increases, more people resort to government assistance.

That’s the way the “math” has added up in every state in the U.S.

If we denied people food stamps in this recession, if they went hungry, would their jobs pay better? Would there be more jobs?

Clearly, if Maine had more jobs and better jobs there would be fewer people on government programs and food stamps.

With that, we are sure Steve Abbott — and all Mainers — would agree.

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