The Obama administration recently released data assessing the progress of the economic stimulus bill that took effect earlier this year. According to the administration, the measure is a great success.
There’s especially good news for Arizonans in the 15th congressional district, where the stimulus allegedly created 30 jobs. While Arizona’s 86th district has yet to see any new jobs, it did receive $34 million in stimulus dollars. The White House relates similar stories from around the nation.
The only problem with all this is that there is no 15th or 86th congressional district. These imaginary districts exist only on “recovery.gov,” the White House Web site that supposedly tracks stimulus funds. The phantom districts in Arizona were among the many errors in the White House’s numbers that the media have reported recently. In some cases, jobs that were never in danger of being lost were deemed “saved.” In others, pay raises were counted as saved jobs. And, in Arkansas, the purchase of a $1,000 lawn mower was credited with saving or creating 50 jobs!
Many of the numbers reported by the White House defy common sense. The administration claims the California State University (CSU) system used $268.5 million in stimulus funds to save 26,156 jobs. That total is more than half of all jobs in the CSU system. Indeed, a spokesman for CSU admitted to the Sacramento Bee that the university system was not actually going to let half its work force go.
The very way the jobs numbers are calculated contributes to these often absurd results. The White House is not really counting individual new jobs, but simply estimating them. Harvard economist Greg Mankiw notes that “You can measure how many jobs are created between two points in time. But there is no way to measure how many jobs are saved. Even if things get much, much worse, the president can say that there would have been 4 million fewer jobs without the stimulus.”
Even Democrats have questioned the way the administration is counting jobs. As Senator Max Baucus, a Democrat from Montana, told Secretary Geithner not long ago, “you created a situation where you cannot be wrong.”
Optimistic projections from the White House, however, provide little solace to those who are actually looking for work. In April, when the unemployment rate was hovering around 8 percent, President Obama said the stimulus plan was “ahead of schedule and under budget.” Now, the unemployment rate has topped 10 percent, and many Americans have grown so frustrated that they have temporarily stopped looking for work.
In Arizona, about 290,000 people are unemployed, and nearly 80,000 jobs have been lost since the stimulus was enacted, a far cry from the 70,000 jobs that the administration projected the stimulus would create.
It’s one thing to say that jobs are created. It’s another to produce tangible results, like, for instance, a declining unemployment rate. The White House has succeeded in the former, but failed in the latter.
The American people deserve better. After all, the stimulus is their money — all $1 trillion of it. (Actually, it’s money borrowed from China, but we have to pay it back.) If the stimulus isn’t working as intended, let’s face that reality, so that we can return some of the funds to the taxpayers and consider alternatives that actually boost the economy and create jobs.
Sen. Jon Kyl is the Senate Republican Whip and serves on the Senate Finance and Judiciary committees. Visit his Web site at www.kyl.senate.gov or his YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/ senjonkyl.