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KAI RYSSDAL: As of the last time the Labor Department clued us in, the U.S. economy has lost about 8.5 million jobs since the recession officially started almost two years ago. Add in what you’d need to get us back to where we’d be if the recession had never happened and it’s 11 million jobs. Bear that in mind as the context for the announcement out of the White House today. The administration says its $787 billion stimulus program has created or saved about 650,000 jobs so far.
We asked Marketplace’s Nancy Marshall Genzer to check the administration’s math.
Nancy Marshall Genzer: Less than half the stimulus money has been spent so far. Today, Vice President Joe Biden said that spending has created jobs in construction and kept teachers from being laid off.
Joe Biden: There’s strong and mounting evidence that the recovery act is putting people back to work.
The White House says it figured out how many people are back to work by asking businesses that received stimulus money how many jobs they created. State and local governments used stimulus money to avoid laying off government workers and teachers. Those were the jobs that were saved.
Allan Meltzer: No one knows how to measure jobs saved. Do you know if your job has been saved? No one else does.
Allan Meltzer is a professor of political economy at Carnegie Mellon University. He says don’t believe the White House numbers.
Meltzer: Throw them in wastebasket. They mislead you.
Mark Vitner doesn’t think the White House is misleading us. Vitner is the senior economist at Wells Fargo. He says there’s no way to know exactly how many jobs were created or saved by the stimulus. It’s just too hard to measure. Take construction jobs: You’d think that would be a concrete number. But Vitner says some workers are counted more than once.
Mark Vitner: If someone is working in the road paving business, and they happened to get three different projects, that would probably show up as three different jobs.
Economist Gus Faucher of Moody’s Economy.com says forget about the numbers. Look at the big picture.
Gus Faucher: If we didn’t have the stimulus I think the economy would likely would have contracted in the third quarter. Which means the labor market would be even worse.
How much worse? It’s hard to say.
In Washington, I’m Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.