Stimulus Job Counting Nightmare Continues

The Boston Globe has investigated the number of jobs supposedly “saved” or “created” in Massachusetts by $4 billion in stimulus money, and–surprise!–they found huge errors, omissions, and flat out wrong numbers. In some cases, such as rental subsidies, money that would have normally gone to agencies and landlords anyway was counted as stimulus money. In another case, stimulus money was used to give cost-of-living adjustments to public employees. In numerous cases, jobs “created” were literally fabrications based on no real methodology or approach to figuring out the difference let alone whether the money was simply supporting existing jobs.

A few tidbits from the Globe article (13 November 2009):

But in interviews with recipients, the Globe found that several openly acknowledged creating far fewer jobs than they have been credited for.

One of the largest reported jobs figures comes from Bridgewater State College, which is listed as using $77,181 in stimulus money for 160 full-time work-study jobs for students. But Bridgewater State spokesman Bryan Baldwin said the college made a mistake and the actual number of new jobs was “almost nothing.” Bridgewater has submitted a correction, but it is not yet reflected in the report.

In other cases, federal money that recipients already receive annually – subsidies for affordable housing, for example – was reclassified this year as stimulus spending, and the existing jobs already supported by those programs were credited to stimulus spending. Some of these recipients said they did not even know the money they were getting was classified as stimulus funds until September, when federal officials told them they had to file reports.

“There were no jobs created. It was just shuffling around of the funds,” said Susan Kelly, director of property management for Boston Land Co., which reported retaining 26 jobs with $2.7 million in rental subsidies for its affordable housing developments in Waltham. “It’s hard to figure out if you did the paperwork right. We never asked for this.”

and from page 2:

“Some of the errors are striking: The community action agency based in Greenfield reported 90 full-time jobs associated with the $245,000 it got for its preschool Head Start program. That averages out to just $2,700 per full-time job. The agency said it used the money to give roughly 150 staffers cost-of-living raises. The figure reported on the federal report was a mistake, a result of a staffer’s misunderstanding of the filing instructions, said executive director Jane Sanders.

“Several other Head Start agencies also reported using stimulus funds for pay raises and claimed jobs for it.

“At Bridgewater State, Baldwin said the college mistakenly counted part-time student jobs as full time.

“Some agencies that received stimulus money reported jobs for work that had not started. The Greater Lawrence Family Health Center reported 30 construction jobs “have been created,” even though it hadn’t begun construction on a $1.5 million renovation and expansion. Grant administrator Beth Melnikas said the health center does expect to hire 30 workers.

“There was often variance among recipients of the same source of funding. Some did not report any positions retained; others did. Some used different methods and got different results.

Recipients of stimulus money found the paperwork and filing instructions confusing and cumbersome. Many agencies had simply never considered whether a job was new, saved, or created before, so they had trouble following federal guidelines. In short, implementing programs through a bureaucracy is difficult, tedious, and often wasteful.

Some experts believe we will never know how many jobs were created or saved by the stimulus package.

This isn’t quite true. We can tease out these numbers using statistical analysis. We will have to compare economic performance before and after the stimulus funds were spent, controlling for other major factors that influence macroeconomic performance. But, that will take years to sort out and President Obama will likely be long-gone from office even if he serves two terms.