Gov. LePage used his weekly radio address Saturday to decry abuse of Maine’s system for providing unemployment benefits and vowed a crackdown on cheaters. The crackdown is probably overdue, since officials estimate that overpayments cost $6.5 million last year alone – money paid into the system by businesses whose taxes finance the program and who otherwise might have used the money in a way that could have created jobs.

We would argue that the state’s first priority in this time of painfully high unemployment should be the need for job creation, not investigating the unemployed, but if the state and its job creators are being defrauded by individuals who would rather scam the system than work, it’s time to deal with the problem. It’s also infuriating to imagine that people would claim benefits they don’t deserve at a time when so many of their friends and neighbors are in desperate need of assistance from the same pool of money.

To some extent, problems in administering and policing the system have to be considered a symptom of the unemployment crisis. With so many people claiming unemployment benefits and collecting them over long periods of time, it stands to reason that there would be mismanagement, ranging in magnitude from innocent errors to intentional fraud.

If, as the governor said, millions of dollars are going to people who don’t deserve them, the state’s Department of Labor needs to figure out who has been paid in error and should make every effort to recover the money. To the extent that benefits have been obtained through fraud, violators should be prosecuted – and the charges could range from a Class D misdemeanor to a Class B felony, the governor said.

We would hope that criminality and dishonorable “gaming” of the system are less to blame for the problem than the inevitable toll taken on an overburdened system, a program tested to its limits by the economic downturn that started almost four years ago.

Whether overpayments are intentional or accidental, Gov. LePage is right to say that Maine should tighten its reporting practices to stop payments from going to the wrong people.

But no one should lose sight of the fact that the problem goes far deeper than waste or fraud — the real problem is joblessness. The top priority of the governor and all policymakers should be reducing unemployment.