Stimulus Jobs in Oregon Last One Week

Stimulus money in Oregon created over 3,200 jobs over the past three months. Politicians there are thrilled with this success, though the people who got the jobs aren’t too pleased—mainly because the jobs didn’t even last a week:

In Oregon, where lawmakers are spending $176 million to supplement the federal stimulus, Democrats are taking credit for a remarkable feat: creating 3,236 new jobs in the program’s first three months. But those jobs lasted on average only 35 hours, or about one work week. After that, those workers were effectively back unemployed, according to an Associated Press analysis of state spending and hiring data. By the state’s accounting, a job is a job, whether it lasts three hours, three days, three months, or a lifetime. “Sometimes some work for an individual is better than no work,” said Oregon’s Senate president, Peter Courtney.

This is the kind of accounting that we have been critiquing since the start of the stimulus (going back to Bush’s first stimulus really), and it comes down to this: government spending will not create millions of long-term jobs in the private sector. Construction projects, a big part of the messaging push for the stimulus, are by their nature short-term. And green jobs are designed to create efficiencies, which also reduces career positions.

Economist Bruce Blonigen of the University of Oregon has some harsh words for the job projections and counting practices: “At best you can say it’s ambiguous, at worst you can say it’s intentional deception. You have to normalize it into a benchmark that everybody can understand.” The Cascade Policy Institute, a free-market think-tank out West, says that for the price of Oregon’s $176 million stimulus, state lawmakers could have instead given each of the state’s 3 million residents $60 for a one-hour long job, and by the states accounting methods, that would create 3 million jobs. Um, I see no problems with that.

To its credit, the White House has tried to figure this out and developed a metric for measuring the 3.5 million jobs it is supposedly going to create or save. From an AP report:

The White House requires states to report numbers in terms of full-time, yearlong jobs. That means a part-time mechanic counts as half a job. A full-time construction worker who has a three-month paving contract counts as one-fourth of a job.

The problem remains that there is still no good way of counting exactly the number of jobs that wouldn’t have been lost because of the savings, and there is no way the government is going to track the number of jobs that have been lost because of stimulus spending (such as lost jobs in traditional energy because of green spending).