Stimulus funds nearly 600,000 jobs last quarter

The White House’s massive stimulus plan funded 599,108 jobs in the fourth quarter, administration officials said Saturday.

The figure, based on about 160,000 reports from state, local and corporate recipients, is the second concrete look at the impact of the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. These recipients have been allocated $199.4 billion in spending and received $57.9 billion.

As mandated by Congress, the report covers money spent by states to keep teachers in schools and cops on the street, as well as to rebuild roads, launch green energy initiatives and fund other projects.

It does not tally jobs created indirectly through companies buying supplies for stimulus projects, people spending their tax cuts, increased unemployment benefits and the like.

In total, the economic stimulus program has boosted employment by 1.5 million to 2 million jobs, the president’s chief economic adviser said in mid-January. Unlike the figure reported Saturday, the adviser’s number is derived from a mathematical formula based on how much money has flowed out the federal door and includes both the direct and indirect hires.

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A total of $263.3 billion has been paid to states, contractors and other recipients or distributed in tax breaks. Recipients’ reports cover about one-fifth of that total, according to the White House.

Since it was enacted last February, the stimulus program has been a lightning rod for controversy. Republicans have repeatedly attacked the $862 billion effort as a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars that has not created meaningful, long-term employment. They point to the nation’s 10% jobless rate as proof of its failings.

Obama administration officials, however, credit the stimulus program with lifting the nation of out of the Great Recession and keeping more people off the unemployment rolls. They made sure to draw the distinction Saturday between the number of jobs recipients reported and the broader figure calculated by the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

“These reports, which provide a snapshot of the impact of a small portion of funds, are yet another indication that the Recovery Act is on-track to create or save 3.5 million jobs by the end of 2010,” said Vice President Joseph Biden.

One thing is for certain: The first jobs tally, which showed 640,000 jobs were created, contained numerous errors. After that October report, the administration changed the criteria for counting stimulus-funded jobs. The goal was to make it simpler for recipients to accurately report headcounts.

Recipients no longer have to determine whether a job was “created” or “saved” by stimulus funds, only that it was “funded” by the Recovery Act. Also, the reports only track jobs on a quarterly basis instead of keeping a running total.

Even with these changes, it’s still a challenge to determine exactly how many jobs stimulus has funded, experts said. It will come as no surprise if more mistakes are found. Recipients are able to correct their reports after they are posted.

“Not unexpectedly, recipients have made errors when reporting,” said Earl Devaney, chairman of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board. “By giving recipients the ability to correct mistakes on a continuing basis, we believe the quality of their reports will improve.”

California is top beneficiary

The Golden State has been allocated the most stimulus dollars by far. California has received $21.6 billion since the Recovery Act was passed nearly a year ago. Not surprisingly, it has also funded the most jobs — just over 71,000, a welcome figure in a state with a 12.2% unemployment rate.

New York, which has been allocated $12.6 billion and has an 8.92% unemployment rate, funded just over 43,000 jobs. Florida, which has been approved to receive $9 billion and has an 11% unemployment rate, funded nearly 35,000 jobs.

The company that has received the largest stimulus contracts is Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, which is getting $1.4 billion to deactivate and remediate several reactors and sites. Savannah reported created 800 jobs but says that more than 1,000 subcontactors have also been hired.

The White House posted complete reports on its stimulus data tracker late Saturday evening. The site allows visitors to check what jobs were created and where, down to the zip code level. A new feature directs users to openings for stimulus-funded jobs.

States thankful for the money

Several governors reported the impact of stimulus dollars on the state even before the administration released the overall figures.

In Massachusetts, for instance, the Recovery Act funded the more than 4,500 jobs in the fourth quarter, just over 3,004 of them in education. Of the total jobs funded, more than 3,230 were retained while 1,315 were created. State agencies spent about $675.6 million during the quarter.

Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, touted stimulus’ impact on the alternative energy sector, saying the state will increase wind power 10-fold and solar power 15-fold by next year. The number of solar companies has quadrupled and their employment doubled.

Though the state is facing a $2.7 billion budget gap for fiscal 2011, the stimulus money has helped it launch road projects and keep cops on the street, Patrick said.

“Federal money has not solved our fiscal problems, but it has helped cushion the blow,” he said. “These projects are putting people to work now, creating more jobs in the coming months, and will improve the quality of life in Massachusetts for years to come.”

Oregon, meanwhile, funded the equivalent of more than 8,300 full-time jobs in the past quarter using stimulus money, according to Gov. Ted Kulongoski. The state spent $167 million in the quarter.

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“Thousands of Oregonians are at work today because of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,” said Kulongoski. “I am pleased that Oregon is moving quickly to get projects on the ground and people working as well as help those Oregonians hardest hit by this economic recession.”

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