WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama's stimulus plan spared tens of thousands of teachers from losing their jobs, state officials said Monday 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.
The national data 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.
"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.
The Obama administration, bolstered by some economists and anecdotal evidence, has said things would have been far worse without the stimulus. The White House says more than 1 million jobs have been saved or created so far, a figure that is so murky it can never be verified. That's 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 much more accurate count of workers employed by stimulus money. The job count will not tally jobs created by Obama's $288 billion tax cuts or attempt to quantify the ripple effect of stimulus spending.
Many states had little information to make public. In some states, government agencies and contractors reported their data separately and governors were still getting a handle on what the job picture looked like. In other states, officials were still reviewing the data for errors.
"I don't want to give you data and have it change as it gets corrected," said Tom Evslin, whom Gov. Jim Douglas appointed as Vermont's top recovery officer. Evslin said before the public could see the data, state lawmakers would receive a briefing Thursday.
Other states that refused to make information public feared getting ahead of the release in Washington.
"We are still awaiting word from the federal government to see if this is data we ought to be releasing," said Tasya Peterson, spokeswoman for Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's recovery office.
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.
The Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, the independent body set up by Congress to monitor recovery act spending, will release job data in two batches. On Thursday, the board will release data on direct spending from federal agencies. That will include jobs such as repairing military bases and improving national parks.
Later this month, the board will release grant data, which will include jobs such as construction workers hired to repair local highways using federal money.
Officials have said the unprecedented accounting could become standard for government programs in the future, and this week's data release will offer the first indication of how it's working.