States work overtime to count stimulus jobs
Officials must tell exactly what they did with the aid. Teachers appear to fare best.
WASHINGTON - Public school teachers are expected to be the big winners when states reveal for the first time how many jobs were created or saved during the first months of President Obama's $787 billion stimulus plan.
State officials worked into the weekend as part of the most ambitious effort ever to calculate, in real time, the effect of a government spending program.
Whether it is 11 jobs repaving a road in Caldwell, Texas, or one job helping run Utah food banks, states must say exactly what they have done with the federal aid.
The data, to be released in two installments this month by the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, the independent body set up by Congress to monitor Recovery Act spending, will come amid growing political pressure on the Obama administration to prove that the stimulus spending is saving and creating jobs.
On Thursday, the board is to release data on the impact of direct spending from federal agencies. That will include jobs such as fixing military bases and national parks.
Later this month, the board is to release grant data on jobs such as construction workers hired to repair local highways using federal money - and teachers.
Based on preliminary information obtained by the AP from a few states, teachers appear to have benefited most from the early spending.
That is because the stimulus sent billions of dollars to help stabilize state budgets, averting what officials said would have been tens of thousands of teacher layoffs.
In California, the stimulus is credited with saving or creating 62,000 jobs in public schools and state universities. Utah reported saving 2,600 teaching jobs. In both states, education jobs represent about two-thirds of the total number of jobs saved. Missouri reported saving 8,500 school jobs and Minnesota 5,900.
In Michigan, where officials said 19,500 jobs had been saved or created, three out of four are in education.
Construction companies also are expected to report strong job numbers thanks to billions of dollars in highway money, but those figures will vary by state, because some have spent the money faster than others.
Unlike construction jobs, which require bidding and contracting, teaching jobs were relatively quick to save once federal aid arrived.
"This early data confirms that the Recovery Act is working across the country to keep tens of thousands of teachers in the classroom and construction workers on the job during these tough economic times," said Elizabeth Oxhorn, spokeswoman for the White House recovery office.
Job estimates have become political chips in debating the worth of the stimulus, particularly since many of the jobs created are temporary contract positions.
Since the president signed the bill, millions of jobs have been lost and unemployment has climbed higher than White House aides predicted.
Republicans already see a "jobless recovery." In a letter to Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House GOP leaders asked: "Where are the jobs?"
Firing back, White House chief economic adviser Lawrence Summers defended the administration's efforts on the jobs front and wrote to the Republican leaders that Obama was "committed to not repeating the fiscal mistakes of the last eight years."
The Obama administration, bolstered by economists and anecdotal evidence, has said things would be far worse without the stimulus.
The White House says more than one million jobs have been saved or created so far, a figure that is hard to verify. That is because the White House estimate is based on economic models that try to calculate the effect of tax cuts and the ripple effect of government spending.
The numbers being collected by contractors and states are expected to provide a more accurate count.
States were told to keep their counting simple:
A job means a full-time, full-year job. So a 40-hour-a-week summer job will be counted as one-fourth of a job. A part-time researcher who works all year is half a job. And the full-time construction engineer who works all year is one job.