Nearly 650,000 jobs have been saved or created under President Barack Obama's economic stimulus plan, the government said Friday, and the White House declared the nation on track to meet the president's goal of 3.5 million by the end of next year.
New job numbers from businesses, contractors, state and local governments, nonprofit groups and universities were released, showing 640,329 positions credited to the stimulus, according to the independent federal board monitoring the program's progress.
Teachers and other education employees represent the largest number of jobs in the report — about 325,000. With state budgets in crisis, federal aid helped governors avoid major cuts in education, which officials said spared many teachers and school workers from the unemployment line.
Vice President Joe Biden said the recovery plan "is operating as advertised" and on target to reach Obama's goal.
"We're starting to make real progress on the road to recovery," Biden said.
But the government’s efforts to track jobs created by the stimulus act have been criticized by many watchdog and policy groups, who said that initial data placed on recovery.gov data was incomplete and riddled with errors. When those numbers, provided by recipients of a small portion of federal contracts funded by Recovery Act money, showed only 30,383 jobs had been created, the White House quickly discounted them and cited its estimate of 1 million or more jobs.
Today’s data release, which will include reports from a far larger pool of recipients, is still unlikely to directly account for 1 million or more jobs.
A large part of the disconnect between the White House numbers and the figures that appear on recovery.gov is that more than 80 percent of the Recovery Act’s spending through Sept. 30 is outside of job-reporting requirements, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington-based policy group that follows fiscal policy. That includes nearly $130 billion in tax cuts, Medicaid assistance for states, and expanded unemployment and food stamp benefits.
Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell said "it's bewildering" to see the Obama administration's job-creation claims.
White House economic adviser Jared Bernstein said the figures show that, when adding in jobs linked to $288 billion in tax cuts, the stimulus has created or saved more than 1 million jobs.
Government recovery plans — everything from the $787 billion stimulus to tax credits for buying new homes to government deals on new cars — are credited with helping the economy grow again after a long and deep recession.
But the job market has yet to show signs of recovery, putting pressure on the White House to show that the stimulus was worth its hefty price. The economy has shed millions of jobs since Obama signed the stimulus in February, giving Republicans ammunition to say the government is spending too much for too little effect.
The White House said the latest report bolstered its case that the recession would have been far worse without the stimulus — a package of government spending, tax cuts, state aide and social programs.
The numbers released Friday have limitations, since calculating "jobs saved" will always produce an inexact estimate, and collecting data from so many sources is certain to produce errors.
Bernstein said there's not a huge distinction between jobs "saved" and jobs "created" by the stimulus money. Either way, he said, "it's an unemployed person avoided."
The data released represent the most extensive effort by any administration to calculate the effect of a spending program in real time.
The White House promised the data would be far more reliable than the first batch of numbers, on federal contracts, which the administration initially embraced, then branded a "test run" after thousands of errors were discovered. Many errors in that initial batch were reported by The Associated Press this week.
In Indiana, where officials reported saving 13,000 teaching jobs, Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels warned against putting too much stock in the job numbers.
"I personally wouldn't try to tell a taxpayer that this had any effect that I can see on the economy or let alone that there is some specific number of jobs attached to it," Daniels said earlier this month.
Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, said Friday "there's just no doubt" that the federal aide spared 6,100 government jobs, including teachers, police officers and firefighters, in his state.
"There would have been dramatic layoffs," he said.