Maine Governor Paul LePage told an audience of conservative women last week that "47% of able-bodied people in the state of Maine don’t work." Speaking to the Informed Women’s Network at a private gathering, LePage made the remarks at the end of the event, almost off the cuff. But his statement, which doesn't actually match up to the reality of the state's workforce, was captured in an audio recording published by a blogger and local Democratic activist at the Bangor Daily News.
LePage adds that "one in three" Mainers are collecting welfare, to gasps and sounds of disapproval from his audience. But that figure doesn't quite match up, either. According to the state's Department of Labor, Maine's unemployment rate is actually below average, at 7.0 percent. And its labor force participation is at 65.3 percent, also slightly higher than the national average. Maine doesn't break down the population of those not participating in the workforce into categories, but that group would include, say, retirees and students. As for welfare, 15,729 Maine families were on TANF welfare benefits in March of 2013, out of 551,601 households. That's one in 35 households on welfare, far from the figure cited by LePage.
The AP spoke to a spokesperson for the governor, who revealed where LePage may have become confused — by assuming that Mainers who need public assistance aren't also working:
LePage's spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said that LePage is concerned about the large number of Mainers on welfare compared to those who are employed. She said LePage was adding up the percentage of Maine residents on food stamps, cash assistance and Medicaid to come up with about 47 percent.
Poverty assistance programs like food stamps and Medicaid, however, are not mutually exclusive with employment. Fifty-two percent of U.S. fast food workers are on some sort of public assistance, for example, according to a recent study. As of 2012, 41 percent of people receiving SNAP benefits had at least one partially or fully-employed adult in their household.
Naturally, LePage's opponents are hoping that the governor's remarks will catch on and stick, Mitt Romney-style — he goes up for re-election in 2014. On Facebook, independent candidate Eliot Culter asked his supporters to "Click "Like" if you want a governor who has a plan to create opportunity for 100% of all Maine people," while Democratic candidate Mike Michaud said "I know that Maine workers are some of the hardest working in the world. They take pride in their work and they deserve a governor who will take pride in them."