States to gauge stimulus' impact


POSTED: Tuesday, October 13, 2009

WASHINGTON » President Barack Obama's stimulus plan spared tens of thousands of teachers from losing their jobs, state officials said yesterday amid a nationwide effort to calculate the effect of Washington's $787 billion recovery package.

State officials around the U.S. worked to meet a Saturday reporting deadline as part of the most ambitious effort to calculate in real time the effect of a government spending program. From 11 jobs repaving a road in Caldwell, Texas, to one job at Utah food banks, to two forensic scientist positions in North Dakota, states were required to say exactly what became of billions in government aid.

(Mark Anderson, deputy director for the Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, said the state is in the middle of the reporting process. Officials are compiling information on 138 federal awards to the state and still need to hear from six grant recipients. He did not have the tally of jobs created so far and said that number will be available Oct. 30.)

The national data also won't be available until later this month. But based on preliminary information obtained by The Associated Press from a handful of states, teachers appear to have benefited most from early spending. That's because the stimulus sent billions of dollars to help stabilize state budgets, sparing what officials said would have teacher layoffs.

In California the stimulus was credited with saving or creating 62,000 jobs in public schools and state universities. Utah reported saving about 2,600 teaching jobs. In both states, education jobs represented about two-thirds of the total stimulus job number. Missouri reported more than 8,500 school jobs; Minnesota, more than 5,900. In Michigan, where officials said 19,500 jobs have been saved or created, three out of four were in education.

“;They're going to be the biggest driver of jobs from the state side,”; said Chris Whatley, who tracks stimulus programs for the Council of State Governments.

Construction companies also are expected to report strong job numbers thanks to billions of dollars in highway money, but those figures will vary because some states have spent that money faster than others. Unlike construction jobs, which require bidding and contracting, teaching jobs were relatively quick to save once billions of dollars in aid arrived from Washington.

States were told to keep their counting simple: A job means a full-time, full-year position. 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.

“;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, a spokeswoman for the White House recovery office.

Job estimates have become political chips in the debate on whether the stimulus was worth its hefty price tag, particularly since many of the jobs created are temporary contract positions.

Since the president signed the bill in February, millions of jobs have been lost, and unemployment has climbed higher than White House aides predicted.