The Stimulus Saved 650,000 Jobs? I'm Not Impressed.

Any minute now, recovery.gov will have a report that touts 650,000 jobs have been saved or created thus far by February's $787 billion stimulus package. In fact, the White House is already bragging about this on its blog. Am I the only person who's completely unimpressed?

According to a Washington Post article on this these 650,000 jobs, they were created or saved by the $150 billion in grants or loans having been dispersed through the stimulus. A little simple math shows that this means those jobs cost an average of $230,769 each. That seems kind of expensive to me, given that I doubt many of these jobs pay anything close to six-figure salaries.

Moreover, this is a virtual blip compared to the vast population of unemployed. That number was up to 15.1 million in September according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. I suspect next week's October statistics will reveal it's even higher right now. Without the stimulus, if these jobs weren't saved or created, then the September unemployment rate would have been around 10.2% instead of 9.8%. I guess that's a little better, but that difference doesn't exactly blow your mind.

Indeed, let's revisit President Obama's chief economist Christina Romer's chart (.pdf) of unemployment expectations with and without the stimulus from January. I noted this chart in a post a few weeks ago, and added actual numbers as red dots:

Thumbnail image for white house unem updated.PNG

If you look at the variance between the original unemployment estimate with and without stimulus, the administration was expecting around 1% lower unemployment with the recovery package by September (eyed by measuring the distance between the light and dark blue lines below the red dot for September). It got less than half that with 0.4%.

I would measure the effectiveness of the stimulus by how efficiently it's working and how well it's meeting expectations. As my above analysis shows, it fails on both accounts. That doesn't mean it has been completely useless. 650,000 jobs is something, just not impressive.

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Daniel Indiviglio was an associate editor at The Atlantic from 2009 through 2011. He is now the Washington, D.C.-based columnist for Reuters Breakingviews. He is also a 2011 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow through the Phillips Foundation. More

Indiviglio has also written for Forbes. Prior to becoming a journalist, he spent several years working as an investment banker and a consultant.

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