- Associated Press - Saturday, October 25, 2014

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin says the Vermont economy has created thousands of jobs during his almost four years in office. GOP challenger Scott Milne and, more broadly, Republican interest groups say the state’s economy has suffered under his leadership.

Vermont has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country and businesses are hiring, Shumlin says. Critics counter that rate is going up and the low rate is because thousands of Vermonters aren’t looking for work. The poverty rate is up, too, and median income is falling.

So is Vermont’s economy getting better or worse?

It’s mixed, said Middlebury College Economics Professor Peter Matthews.

“There’s not a lot in the Vermont data that you’re not seeing nationally,” Matthews said.

Typically during a recession people leave the workforce after becoming discouraged. As the economy improves they will be drawn back into the labor force and labor rates and employment rates go up, he said.

“In Vermont we haven’t really seen that for prime-age workers. We’ve seen increases in the number of jobs for younger workers and we’ve actually seen them for older workers,” Matthews said. “We haven’t seen dramatic increases in employment for prime-age workers. That’s a bit of a puzzle. It’s a very exaggerated version of a broader national trend.”

Part of Shumlin’s basic campaign pitch is how far the economy as come during his time as governor recovering from the Great Recession. He points to the low unemployment rate and says 9,000 jobs have been created during his time in office, but he’s quick to acknowledge that many Vermonters continue to struggle and more needs to be done.

His political opponents look at other bits of economic data to show his time has not made the state better. A television ad by the Republican State Leadership Committee, a group promoting Republican candidates, says Vermont has 3,000 fewer workers and it rattles off the names of a number of businesses that have closed.

Matthews said that during an election season many imagine that governors and state legislatures are capable of reversing entrenched national trends.

“Sometimes there are trends and puzzles out there that don’t admit obvious explanations,” Matthews said. “The situation for Vermont workers is mixed. There are Vermont workers, especially at the upper end of the income distribution, who are doing well and in fact doing better and there are Vermont workers at the lower end of the distribution who are actually doing worse.”

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