President Obama and Mitt Romney campaigns battle over Mass. job growth numbers

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The Obama and Romney campaigns sparred Sunday over what is the most repeated statistic of the political moment: Massachusetts ranked 47th out of 50 states in job growth when Romney was governor.

Appearing together on ABC’s “This Week,” Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom and Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter offered competing takes on the presumptive Republican nominee’s jobs record.

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“Actually, when Mitt Romney arrived, Massachusetts was an economic basket house,” Fehrnstrom said. “If you throw D.C. into the mix, we were 51 out of 51. By the time Mitt Romney left four years later, we were in the middle of the pack. We were 30th in the nation in terms of job growth. That’s the trend line that you want to see. That’s called a turnaround. And it’s what this president has been unable to execute with the national economy.”

Cutter questioned Fehrnstrom’s claim, saying she had been “looking at different numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”

“Well, that’s where these numbers come from,” Fehrnstrom replied.

Cutter said Massachusetts was 36th out of 50 states when Romney took office and 47th when he left.

The Globe reviewed numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and found Fehrnstrom’s and Cutter’s seemingly irreconcilable figures are, in fact, mostly compatible and true. But the campaigns present BLS numbers in very different ways.

In its review, the Globe examined seasonally adjusted, nonfarm jobs, the most commonly accepted employment measure.

The statistics show that Massachusetts’s job growth ranking improved dramatically from Romney’s first year in office to his last, but its cumulative ranking during Romney’s four-year term was markedly lower than it was under his predecessor.

The claim that Massachusetts under Romney ranked 47th out of 50 states in job growth is true, and the Romney campaign has not disputed its accuracy. If the District of Columbia is included, Massachusetts’s rank was 48th.

Over the four-year period 2003 to 2006, Massachusetts jobs grew by 1.26 percent, well behind the national median of 4.84 percent. In the previous four-year span 1999 to 2002, job growth in the Bay State was just 0.89 percent, but its national rank was 35th.

A comparison between the full-term job growth rankings of Romney and his predecessor, Jane Swift, supports Cutter’s point. From one governor’s four-year term to the next, Massachusetts’s national ranking dropped 13 spots.

Yet, BLS data also reinforce Fehrnstrom’s argument. In 2003, Romney’s first year in office, the number of jobs in Massachusetts declined by 1.39 percent, ranking it “51 out of 51,” as Fehrnstrom said. In 2006, Romney’s last full year in office, Massachusetts jobs grew by 1.06 percent, 32nd in the nation. Over the course of Romney’s tenure as governor, Massachusetts’s annual job growth ranking improved by 19 spots.