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January 31, 2010

New stimulus jobs numbers for Maryland, fresh ammo for campaign attacks

Recent polls show that most Americans take a dim view of the federal stimulus program, even as economists praise its impact and President Barack Obama calls it a big reason the nation avoided a second Great Depression.

Republicans almost universally opposed the measure (it got no Republican votes in the House and three in the Senate, including Arlen Specter, who switched parties and became a Democrat soon after).

Obama has pointed out that Republican politicians aren't shy about taking credit when the federal stimulus money hits their districts (attending "the ribbon-cuttings" is how he put it--twice--during the Inner Harbor debate with members of the House Republican Conference).

That won't stop the attacks, though. Not when 45 percent of people questioned in a recent CNN poll said most or nearly all the money in the stimulus had been wasted, and another 29 percent said about half has been wasted.

One of the easiest Republican targets is the Democratic game (mandated by a Democratic Congress and administration) of trying to count the number of jobs created by the stimulus. Seems simple enough, but it isn't. The first round of numbers, back in the fall, left Obama and congressional Democrats scrambling to explain why they were spending so much to create so few jobs.

Round two began this weekend, with a data release late Saturday night. The tally: 599,108 jobs paid for in the last three months of 2009, when about $50 billion in stimulus money flowed.

Hmmm, a quick seat of the pants calculation puts an $83,450 cost figure on each job. That's pricey for a job that may not have lasted more than a few months. But wait! Turns out that isn't an accurate way to look at it, according to the administration.

An explanation from an Obama advisor, posted on the White House Web site, points out what the numbers actually do -- and don't -- mean. It's a useful primer, but relatively few people will ever see it. What they will see, of course, are crude estimates like the $83,000-a-job figure above, calculations based on government statistics and used to score political points. puts the number of jobs funded in Maryland during the last quarter of '09 at 6,759. That represents slightly fewer jobs for the state, on a proportional basis, than for the nation as a whole. Unfortunately, there's no way to know whether that last statement is accurate or not.

For one thing, the quality of job-number reporting varies widely among the government entities and private companies that got the money. For another, the neighborhood that Maryland finds itself in makes the math even fuzzier. The federal establishment in Washington is throwing off so much stimulus money in all directions, some of the jobs attributed to Virginia and D.C. should actually be counted in Maryland, since that's where the recipients live, pay taxes and, in many cases, work. The reverse is also true.

In other words, the 6,759 jobs total for Maryland may be even less useful than figures for other states.

Nationwide, the largest number of jobs paid for with stimulus money were in education. In Maryland, the state Education department told the feds they had funded 1,257 jobs with stimulus money (assuming that two separate figures listed for the Maryland education department didn't reflect double-counting). Maryland state government reported 963.95 stimulus jobs during the same October 1-December 31 period.

Private businesses that paid for jobs in Maryland with stimulus money are also included in the totals. It's all at, for those with the time and patience to dig it out, but you may need a lot of both.

According to the site, which is the federal government's official online source for stimulus information, a total of $1.18 billion in stimulus money has been spent in Maryland. Don't even try to find that number on the state's widely praised Recovery web site (where visitors find some information hasn't been updated since early August). The state site can be quite useful but it, too, requires patience and a level of computer sophistication that may be beyond most people.

And if attempts to make comparisons using federal stimulus data often turn into an apples-versus-oranges mismatch, as Ed DeSeve, the president's special advisor put it, trying to reconcile Washington stimulus numbers with figures out of Annapolis is even more mind-bending (though the overall story that the numbers tell is largely the same).

The stimulus program will almost certainly be a large issue in this fall's campaign, even if the fine distinctions get lost. But if politicians start spouting a lot of facts and figures about all the hard-earned tax dollars that got wasted in the stimulus disaster, consider the source.

Posted by Paul West at 12:55 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010


"It's a useful primer, but relatively few people will ever see it. What they will see, of course, are crude estimates like..." the one you used unless reporters and bloggers are willing to type another precious paragraph or two to lay out the full story.

hyperlinks are great and should still be included but what do we need reporters (or even bloggers) for then?

Most of the State Highway Administration stimulus projects that have been advertised and awarded had working day durations of 180 days or less. Most of the new hires are hourly under $12.00/hour. What happens when these Contracts are completed? We've just kicked the proverbial can further down the road.

Hey Martin, what happened to the 10,000 jobs for "shovel ready" projects? What happened to them?

Did you get stimulus money to erect all the mirrors and smoke machines?

How can you figure how many jobs the stimulus saved?

What happens after the federal government stops paying out? The states going have to figure away to still keep these jobs going in the future.

Beware of any boosting about any saved jobs until it can be clearly proving in the numbers.

Paul you said best there is no way to tie in the numbers on the website.

Gov. Martin O'Malley's tax hikes cost Maryland almost 20,000 jobs. Now he crows about creating jobs. Doesn't he get it? Tax hikes kill jobs! This state is so backwards.

Health care, education and other government services are great, but the first priority for someone unemployed is a roof over their family's head and food on the table. Everything else is secondary.

"That won't stop the attacks, though. Not when 45 percent of people questioned in a recent CNN poll said most or nearly all the money in the stimulus had been wasted, and another 29 percent said about half has been wasted."
The way I read this is that the minority of people feel this way. Since you put the spin on it. The majority of the populace must believe that the stimulis money has made a difference. Just like in the FDR days, when the Government used money to create jobs. Why do so many people forget this.. I guess because most of the people who report nowadays are not old enough to remember. I'm not old enough to remember either but I did take history. Maybe that is the problem ,young people have no interest in history. That is were we learn from our mistakes......

Alot of numbers, sadly no way to really know. We need a better breakdown i.e. money ad what specific jbs were funded by stimulus money and are they full time jobs which will still be there once money is gone.y take is alot of money is gone to that famous tax payer black hole where we will never know...

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About the bloggers
Annie Linskey covers state politics and government for The Baltimore Sun. Previously, as a City Hall reporter, she wrote about the corruption trial of Mayor Sheila Dixon and kept a close eye on city spending. Originally from Connecticut, Annie has also lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she reported on war crimes tribunals and landmines. She lives in Canton.

John Fritze has covered politics and government at the local, state and federal levels for more than a decade and is now The Baltimore Sun’s Washington correspondent. He previously wrote about Congress for USA TODAY, where he led coverage of the health care overhaul debate and the 2010 election. A native of Albany, N.Y., he currently lives in Montgomery County.

Julie Scharper covers City Hall and Baltimore politics. A native of Baltimore County, she graduated from The Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and spent two years teaching in Honduras before joining The Baltimore Sun. She has followed the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pa., in the year after a schoolhouse massacre, reported on courts and crime in Anne Arundel County, and chronicled the unique personalities and places of Baltimore City and its surrounding counties.
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