October 24, 2013

LePage’s ‘47% don’t work’ claim draws fire

State labor statistics show his assertion is incorrect, as 60 percent of Mainers who are eligible to work are employed, and many others are retired, caregivers or going to school.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Gov. Paul LePage’s political opponents pounced on him Tuesday for saying that 47 percent of able-bodied Mainers don’t work.

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Gov. Paul LePage has said in the past that his inaccurate or impolitic remarks are not helpful to his political career.

AP File Photo

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TANF is only provided to families with children, or to children directly. In August there were 20,608 individuals who received cash benefits, of which 13,338 were children, according to data from the Maine DHHS. More than 5,400 of the 7,270 adults (75 percent) participated in ASPIRE, a job placement program.

According to 2011 data, the most recent, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 30 percent of individuals receiving food stamp benefits had earned income from employment. However, only 21.5 percent of recipients were non-disabled adults between the ages of 18 and 49 without children. Twenty percent were single parents, while the rest were disabled, elderly and children.

There doesn’t appear to be state-specific data tracking Medicaid recipients who are employed. However, according to Kaiser Family Foundation, 34 percent of recipients are children, 28 percent are adults, 20 percent are disabled and 18 percent are considered elderly. It’s known that a significant number of adults receiving health care coverage work, including 14,500 parents between 100 and 133 percent of federal poverty level losing their coverage due to budget cuts. That group of beneficiaries will qualify for transitional coverage because they receive some earned income.

The governor made the remark to a conservative women’s group in Falmouth last week. The event was recorded secretly by someone who attended, and the recording has subsequently been leaked in a series of short installments by a liberal activist and blogger, Mike Tipping.

It’s unclear where LePage got the statistic he used. There is no statistic that indicates, by itself, the percentage of able-bodied Mainers who work.

Data published by the Maine Department of Labor shows that 65.3 percent of the 709,025 Mainers who are eligible for work – those 16 and older who aren’t incarcerated – are employed or actively looking for work. Just over 60 percent are employed, according to the data released in August.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Maine’s labor force participation – those employed or looking for work – is slightly higher than the national average of 63.3 percent.

Tipping, whose blog is published on the Bangor Daily News website, said Tuesday that the governor’s remark bears an uncanny resemblance to the infamous 47 percent remark by 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Romney told supporters that 47 percent of Americans would unconditionally support President Obama because they were entitled and “dependent upon government.”

Like LePage’s remarks, Romney’s were secretly recorded. They later became fodder for supporters of the president’s re-election bid.

LePage has a history of comments that even he concedes are politically damaging.


In the recording, LePage is told that his speaking event at the Dockside Grill is almost over. He says he wants to make two points before leaving, the second being a reference to “workforce development.”

“About 47 percent of able-bodied people in the state of Maine don’t work,” he says.

“What?” a woman in the audience says incredulously.

LePage says, “About 47 percent. It’s really bad.”

LePage’s spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, said the governor is concerned about the number of Mainers who are on welfare relative to those who are employed.

In an email, she first highlighted the governor’s impoverished upbringing and then linked to a paper by the Maine Heritage Policy Center in 2010 showing the percentage of Mainers receiving various forms of public assistance, including Medicaid, cash assistance and food stamps, which, when combined, equaled 48.4 percent. Bennett said LePage was referring to that when he made his remark last week.

Bennett acknowledged that public assistance numbers have no correlation to employment, saying, “We don’t know” whether recipients are working.

In Maine, the average monthly benefit from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is $124.10. The monthly benefit from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families averages $149. Benefits can be combined, but it’s unlikely that anyone could survive on one program alone.

Additionally, most recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families are required to look for employment, so they would be counted in the 65.3 percent who are participating in the labor force.

“The governor understands that not everyone who is dependent on taxpayer dollars is ‘able-bodied,’ ” Bennett wrote in her email, “but he does believe that everyone, regardless of their ability or physical condition, can contribute to society in a meaningful way.”


The Republican governor, who will seek re-election next year, was quickly criticized by his opponents.

U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democratic candidate for governor, said in a prepared statement that LePage’s remarks don’t reflect the Maine workers he knows.

“I worked for 29 years at Great Northern Paper Company and I know that Maine workers are some of the hardest-working in the world,” Michaud said. “They take pride in their work and they deserve a governor who will take pride in them. It’s time we have a governor who will lift Maine up and be a champion of this state, not put it down with misinformation and attacks.”

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