By Johnny Kampis | Missouri Watchdog
ST. LOUIS — The stimulus bill has poured nearly $5 billion into Missouri, but the impact to the Show Me State is murky because of how the program accounts for jobs created.
Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009, funneling more than $800 billion in federal funds across the country during the recession with the objective of creating new jobs or saving existing ones.
The bill even set up an accounting board and website, where people could easily track where the money is going and for what it’s being used.
What it didn’t do was make it easy to determine exactly how many people are employed because of these stimulus funds. The guidance written by the Office of Management and Budget requires the quarterly accounting of jobs, but it does not make recipients break down which are new jobs, and which are ongoing.
Recovery.gov’s web page for the estimated jobs in Missouri lists total employment for each quarter since the recovery act was passed. Add these numbers and you get 144,841 jobs. That’s $33,989 per job. Not bad, right?
The problem with that math is many of these are the same people being employed and reported each quarter, as the stimulus funds provide continued jobs through the months and the years.
“You can’t add those quarters because you’d be double counting,” Ed Pound, communications director for the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, told Missouri Watchdog. “It’s difficult to say how many jobs were funded under this program.”
A 2011 Congressional Budget Office report gives a wide estimate of job additions. That study says employment additions peaked at somewhere between 1.4 million and 3.6 million jobs in the latter part of 2010.
Since the economy has improved since 2009, it’s hard to ascertain how many jobs would have been added without stimulus spending.
“To identify that in the data is extremely difficult,” said Joseph Haslag, an associate professor of economics at the University of Missouri. “It’s not a controlled experiment.”
The program will dole out the money for a decade, as the act calls for spending through 2019. Total awards in Missouri number 6,208.
Of these, 1,674, or 27 percent, have not been completed; 72 have yet to begin.
Some projects were never intended to boost employment. The Newton County Sheriff’s Office, for example, got a $43,447 grant from the Department of Justice to install mobile data terminals in its patrol cars.
The largest in-state recipient so far has been the Missouri Department of Transportation, which has received 357 awards worth nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars for various road and bridge projects.
That money is doubly beneficial because it provides both jobs and infrastructure improvements.
But someone has to foot that $800 billion bill, and Haslag told Watchdog people can expect higher taxes in the future to pay for all that spending.
“The future tax burden more than offsets the benefits of the stimulus spending in Missouri,” he said. “This probably has prolonged or slowed down any economic recovery.”