Economic reality in Maine doesn’t match Joe Biden’s claims

By Matthew Gagnon

President Joe Biden paid Maine a visit for the first time as commander in chief last Friday. 

It was a curious choice for Biden, who was ostensibly in Maine to tout Bidenomics and manufacturing gains.

Perhaps, given his flagging approval, he wanted to associate himself with Gov. Janet Mills, a fellow Democrat with a much more impressive record of legislative success than his, scoring “wins” on abortion, paid family leave and offshore wind power.

Then again, perhaps he was trying to (as has been the case recently) make a highly dubious claim about the brilliance of his economic policies, using Maine as a backdrop.

After deplaning in Brunswick, Biden took a chopper to Auburn Manufacturing, where he delivered a speech claiming that America, thanks to his policies, is in the middle of a manufacturing “boom.”

However, numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Maine Department of Labor show there’s been no such boom. Not in America generally or in Maine in particular.

Now, there certainly is a story to be told about manufacturing in Maine, but it isn’t the one Biden wants to tell.

Maine had almost 100,000 manufacturing jobs in 1990, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. By 2010, almost half of those jobs had disappeared.

Since then, the number of manufacturing jobs has grown, but only modestly. The sad reality is, there are currently more Mainers working for the government than in successful manufacturing companies.

Biden, and by extension Mills, can say that manufacturing jobs have increased in the last few years, but only by about 2,000 to 4,000 positions, depending on whether you use Maine Department of Labor numbers or federal statistics.

But this anemic growth in Maine manufacturing that Biden and Mills call a “boom” has come at the same time the federal government injected $10 billion into the state, an amount of money nearly equal to the entire biennial state budget.

Certainly, Maine’s unemployment rate is unusually low, but Maine’s labor force participation rate, a measure of how many people who can work are working, is currently lower than at any point since the 1970s. At 58.4 percent as of June, that means tens of thousands of able-bodied, working-age Mainers just aren’t working.

The “boom” also hasn’t been felt in the Lewiston-Auburn area, judging by the Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers. That area has added exactly 300 manufacturing jobs over the past 10 years, and it’s still down more than 5,000 jobs since the 1990s.

In terms of total jobs in Maine, we started 2018 with 678,500 jobs and that dropped to 644,600 by the end of the third quarter of last year.

Read that one carefully: the federal government dumped $10 billion into Maine starting in 2020 and now we have more 30,000 fewer people working.

If Mills were serious about revitalizing manufacturing in Maine, I believe she should have used the influx of federal dollars during the pandemic to reduce Maine’s outrageously high taxes. And she would have blocked the terrible energy policies that are making electricity more expensive in Maine than in much of the rest of the country, given how much that energy cost impacts heavy use manufacturing businesses.

No manufacturer can ignore the immense cost of locating here thanks in part to solar and wind developers, with help from politicians, using ratepayers like their personal piggybank. Even if manufacturers did try to open shop in Maine, they would have a tough time convincing employees to move to a state with the third highest tax burden in the U.S.

Instead of making it easier to grow manufacturing jobs in Maine, Mills and her allies in the Legislature have done just the opposite.

The paid leave measure Mills signed into law will impose the biggest state tax increase on Maine workers of my lifetime. And the Legislature ended up killing a bill that would have substantially reined in the ruinous “net energy billing” policy that is siphoning money out of ratepayers’ pockets to fund mostly out-of-state solar developers.

At the federal level, anyone who thinks the executive order that Biden signed in Auburn will be a gamechanger probably hasn’t read it.

Biden was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1972 and has held federal office almost continuously ever since. The truth is his “boom” is just the typical cherry-picked statistical gimmickry we are used to from Washington, and “Bidenomics” is the same left-wing tax-and-spend nonsense repackaged for a new generation.

Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Policy Institute, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C.

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