Fuzzy Math: What Do Recent Employment Numbers Say About the Stimulus?

Tuesday, September 22nd 2009, 11:23 pm
By: News On 6

By Alex Cameron, Oklahoma Impact Team

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK -- President Obama's $787 billion stimulus package was supposed to stabilize the economy by creating or saving jobs, but the latest unemployment figures suggest the plan may not be working.

In Oklahoma, unemployment continued its gradual upward climb in August, reaching 6.8 percent. The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission reports 6,700 jobs were lost in the month, bringing the total number of non-farm jobs lost in the state since the stimulus package became law in February to 30,300.

As discomforting as those numbers are, proponents of the stimulus argue employment statistics would have been even worse without it.

Oklahoma Congresswoman Mary Fallin disagrees.

"When you look at the number of jobs that have been lost, when you look at those that are unemployed, it appears to me that having more federal government spending was not the right answer to stimulate our economy," Fallin said.

The 5th District Republican is not alone. John Sullivan, a Republican representing the state's 1st District, says plainly the stimulus hasn't worked. Rising unemployment, he says, is the proof.

"My question is: where are the jobs? I don't see 'em," Sullivan said.

While Sullivan may not see stimulus jobs, educators like Tracy McDaniel do.

"Yeah, as an educator, I can tell you point blank that the stimulus is working," McDaniel said.

McDaniel is the principal of KIPP Reach, a 5th through 8th grade college preparatory school in the Oklahoma City school district. He says, because of shrinking state revenues, he was told in May to prepare for a five to ten percent budget cut for the coming fiscal year. He says there is no way he would have been able to make that deep a cut and avoid laying off staff. Stimulus funding for education - the State Fiscal Stabilization Funds - came at just about the same time, he says, and plugged the hole.

"We actually saved two jobs this year because of the stimulus money. So, we didn't create a job, but we saved two jobs, and that's a win-win for our school," McDaniel said.

Democratic Congressman Dan Boren, who voted for the stimulus bill, says dozens of school superintendents have voiced similar sentiments to him.

"They all said to me, we would not be able to survive if we did not have the stimulus package," Boren said.

Rep. Dan Boren said, without the stimulus, and certainly without TARP, the $700 billion bank bailout Congress approved in December 2008, unemployment would be much worse. The problem, he said, is that it's difficult to prove that.

"It's hard to measure the stimulus, because how do you measure a job saved?" Boren said.

Beginning October 10, measuring the stimulus could become a little easier, and less speculative, as entities receiving stimulus money will have to report the number of jobs associated with that money.

Earlier this month, the White House reported that the stimulus had so far saved a million jobs, 250,000 more than the administration had projected. Republican leaders dismissed the report, saying it's based on "fuzzy" math.