The best symbol of the $787 billion federal stimulus program turns out not to be of a construction worker in a hard hat, but rather of a classroom teacher saved from a layoff.
On Friday, the Obama administration released the most detailed information yet on the jobs created by the stimulus. Preliminary data showed that of the 640,239 jobs created or saved, 325,000, or more than half, were jobs in education that school districts claimed were saved when stimulus money averted the need for layoffs. While the stimulus was initially sold in large part as a public works program, only about 80,000 of the jobs that were claimed Friday were in construction.
The figures do not include jobs indirectly created by the money pumped into the economy through tax cuts, unemployment benefits and aid to states for Medicaid. If those were included, the administration estimates, the tally would rise to more than 1 million jobs saved or created.
Of course, counting jobs that were saved can be a squishier proposition than counting jobs that were created. And while teachers are being laid off in some areas — and there would undoubtedly have been more layoffs without the stimulus money — it is difficult to say for sure how many teachers would actually have been laid off without the stimulus money.
In New York City, for instance, officials have said that the stimulus allowed them to save thousands of teaching jobs, but it would have been politically difficult for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to lay off that many teachers while running for re-election in part on his education record.
“There is strong and mounting evidence that the recovery act is putting people back to work,” Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said at a news conference in Washington, where he noted that economists have credited the stimulus with helping the economy grow in the last quarter.
While less than a third of the money in the stimulus was actually devoted to infrastructure, the number of construction jobs is expected to grow as more projects around the country get underway. It takes longer to get projects up and running — with people working — than it does to simply transfer federal money to the states.
The actual figures were posted on this afternoon.
The jobs reports come a day after the government announced that the economy grew by 3.5 percent during the quarter that ended in September, ending the longest economic contraction since World War II. But while many economists credited the $787 billion stimulus program with spurring some of that growth, questions remained on one of the most wrenching problems of the downturn: joblessness.
With unemployment at 9.8 percent, and many economists predicting that it will rise still higher before the economy adds jobs again, questions about the stimulus program’s effectiveness at creating jobs have been swirling in Washington.
Republicans have cited the high unemployment figure — which is well above the worst-case scenario the Obama administration gave earlier this year — as a proof of failure of the program, which they overwhelmingly opposed. Democrats have said the recession was simply more severe than most economists predicted earlier this year, and they credit the stimulus program with helping avert a second Great Depression.
Sensitive to the criticisms of Republicans in Washington, the Obama administration invited a marquee Republican to the White House to praise the stimulus: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, whose state has faced perhaps the most severe budget crisis in the nation.
“Some of our colleagues are saying that it hasn’t done much, or was a waste of money,” Mr. Schwarzenegger said, sharing the stage with Mr. Biden. “Well, I would dispute that.”
He said the stimulus had created or saved more than 100,000 jobs in California, more than half of which were the jobs of teachers, professors and school administrators. The governor noted that some people have questioned whether those teachers would actually have been laid off: without the stimulus, he said, “No, those teachers would have been gone.”
This story, originally appeared in The New York Times.