Obama's summer of jobs

Get ready for some real stimulus action, promises the White House. But should we believe in the numbers?

By Andrew Leonard

Published June 8, 2009 5:54PM (EDT)

After having "already saved or created more than 150,000 jobs," Vice President Joseph Biden said Monday morning that stimulus spending over the "second hundred days" of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will "grow the jobs by another 600,000."

Tony Fratto, deputy press secretary for the Bush White House, points out that no one really knows how many jobs will be saved or created by the stimulus. One wishes that he had applied the same analytical rigor he is now flaunting to statements made by the president he worked for, but whatever, it's true: Specific numeral claims about job creation are not worth the computer-screen pixels they're made of. Economic forecasting, in general, is a dark art, and everybody gets it wrong most of the time. Economics, in general, is pretty fuzzy, or 70 years after the Great Depression the Keynesians and the Friedmanites wouldn't still be locked in a death struggle over the proper role of government during a recession.

But here's a look at what is coming up this summer, according to Biden:

From the Wall Street Journal:

Health and Human Services will provide funding for 1,129 health centers to provide expanded service for 300,000 patients; Interior will begin improvements on 107 national parks; Veterans Affairs will start work on 90 medical centers in 38 states; the Justice Department will fund 5,000 law enforcement jobs; the Agriculture Department will begin 200 new rural waste and water system projects; and the Environmental Protection Agency will begin or accelerate the cleanup of 20 Superfund sites.

The Journal didn't mention "rehabilitation and improvement projects at 98 airports and over 1,500 highway locations," funding for 135,000 education jobs, 125,000 summer youth jobs, and 2,300 "construction and rehabilitation projects at 359 military facilities."

Even if all these initiatives do create 600,000 jobs, that only makes up for one month of the job losses from September to April, so we're still, in the best of scenarios, a long way from a jobs rebound. But what strikes me most about this rundown is that this is exactly the kind of stuff that I would expect government to be doing, as a normal part of business. Cleaning up Superfund sites, working on VA hospitals, expanding healthcare, building rural waste and water systems. That's where I want my tax dollars going. The last administration built up huge deficits by cutting taxes and waging two wars, and we didn't hear a peep from the "bond market vigilantes" about how big spending would inevitably lead to inflation. But now, when government actually applies itself to the task of making meaningful improvements in the lives of Americans who need jobs, we are warned that disaster is imminent. Funny, that.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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