Boon for Southern states; New England fares badly
WASHINGTON - Businesses reported creating or saving more than 30,000 jobs in the first months of President Obama’s stimulus program, with military construction leading the way and states in the South and Southwest seeing the biggest boost, a government oversight board said yesterday.
The numbers are based on jobs linked to less than $16 billion in federal contracts and represent just a sliver of the $787 billion stimulus package. But they offer the first hard data on the early effects of the program.
Until now, the White House has relied on economic models to argue that the program created jobs and eased the recession. Critics point to rising unemployment to argue it wasn’t worth the cost.
Obama has set a goal of creating or saving 3.5 million jobs by the end of next year.
The construction industry had the strongest job numbers, accounting for about a third of the jobs thanks to contracts to repair military bases, and environmental jobs also provided a big boost.
New England fared poorly, with fewer than 750 jobs reported across the region, nearly 600 of them concentrated in Massachusetts. Rhode Island, which has the third-highest unemployment rate in the country, had the weakest job numbers, both overall and per capita: Businesses there reported creating about six jobs.
Colorado posted the largest increase of any state, more than 4,700 jobs, largely thanks to a contract to set up a call center to field questions about a change to digital cable. California, Florida, Tennessee, and Texas also showed strong gains.
Broader numbers on local stimulus spending, for everything from repairing public housing and building schools to repaving highways and keeping teachers off the unemployment lines, won’t be available until late this month.
Those figures are expected to show early stimulus money saving thousands of teaching jobs and creating construction work for highway projects nationwide.
Jared Bernstein, the chief economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, said it was too early to draw conclusions from the data “but the early indications are quite positive.’’
House Republican leader John Boehner said the numbers don’t change the fact that unemployment has climbed higher than the White House ever expected. “The administration’s continuing assertion that the stimulus is working flies in the face of the harsh reality being faced by Americans outside the Beltway every day,’’ Boehner said. “While the administration spins its illusion, Americans are asking, ‘Where are the jobs?’ ’’
Since signing the stimulus in February, Obama has watched the economy shed millions of jobs. The White House says things would have been far worse without the stimulus.
In the short term, the most significant thing about the job numbers might be that they exist at all. The government has never before attempted to track the effects, in real time, of a huge public program.