Friday, October 16, 2009

New figures on jobs validate stimulus

WASHINGTON — Businesses reported creating or saving more than 30,000 jobs in the first months of President Barack Obama's stimulus program, according to initial data released Thursday by a government oversight board.
Military construction led the way, and states in the South, including Tennessee, and Southwest saw the biggest boost.

The new job numbers, in line with expectations for such an early accounting, offer the first hard data on effects of the $787 billion stimulus program.

The figures are based on jobs linked to less than $16 billion in federal contracts and represent just a sliver of the total stimulus package. But they also represent a milestone of sorts for an administration that promised unprecedented real-time data on whether the program was working.

Until now, the White House has relied on economic models to argue that the program created jobs and eased the recession. The numbers help shift the discussion from whether the program is creating jobs to whether it is creating enough to justify its enormous price tag.

"These are the most thankful employees you'll ever want to see," said Robert Del Riego, majority owner of Frederick, Md.-based Re-Engineered Business Solutions, who said he hired 33 new employees, mostly skilled laborers looking for work in the dismal construction market.

He expects to hire six more to help with water and sewer projects in Arkansas and North Carolina and small construction jobs at other sites. His company won $1.9 million in Army Corps of Engineers contracts.

"It's extra work and with work, hopefully you make a profit," he said. "But the main thing is, it's putting real guys back to work."

Projections exceeded

The White House said the new numbers are validation that the administration was on track to hit Obama's goal of creating or saving 3.5 million jobs by the end of next year.

"The early indications are quite positive," said White House economic adviser Jared Bernstein, who said the report "exceeds our projections."

Tennessee, California, Florida and Texas showed strong gains. Tennessee reported earlier this week that 7,710 jobs were created or saved as a result of the stimulus spending.

The construction industry showed the strongest numbers in Thursday's report, accounting for about a third of the jobs thanks to contracts to repair military bases.

Despite those gains, unemployment in the construction industry remains high, at 17.1 percent. That's down from its February high of 21.4 percent.

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