In the curious form of mathematics that apparently is practiced in Salem, the way to help rural economies is to fail to renew a state contract that employs 54 people, and a year or so later hire 10 new state employees.

At least those are the numbers that apply in Baker City.

We’re not suggesting that the 10 jobs that will be added to the Baker City office of the Oregon Department of Human Services next month are direct replacements for the 54 positions that Chaves Consulting had at its call center here until February 2017.

But in both cases the workers will field phone calls related to the Oregon Health Plan.

We understand that the task for the new state employees — determining whether Oregonians are eligible for our state’s version of Medicaid — is one that must be done by government workers, according to federal rules.

Yet we’ve seen no evidence that anyone in Salem, from Gov. Kate Brown on down in the executive branch, or in the Legislature, has advocated for changing that onerous and almost certainly unnecessary requirement. Oregon officials have done just that before, though — the recent expansion of the Oregon Health Plan, for instance, required a federal waiver.

What seems clear, though, is that state officials prefer to increase the state’s workforce rather than contract with private companies in rural counties, such as Baker, where jobless rates are higher, and average incomes lower, than the state averages.

This would be more palatable if the numbers of jobs were comparable. But even accounting for the generous benefits that state workers receive, 10 jobs doesn’t have the economic weight of 54.

From the Baker City Herald editorial board. The board consists of editor Jayson Jacoby and reporter Chris Collins.

19888784