It's been a year since President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (better known as the stimulus bill) into law. I didn't like the early concessions Obama made to Republicans in a fruitless effort to win their support for the stimulus. I was even more upset with later compromises made to appease Senate conservadems and Republican moderates. They reduced spending in several areas that had real stimulative value (school construction funds, extra money for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, aid to state governments) in order to include tax cuts that have much less stimulus "bang for the buck." Senator Tom Harkin was right to question why 9 percent of the stimulus bill's cost went toward fixing the alternative minimum tax, for instance.
Still, I supported passage of the stimulus bill. In late 2008 and early 2009 the U.S. economy was losing 600,000 to 700,000 jobs per month. Something had to be done. On balance, the stimulus did much more good than bad. Economists agree it has saved or created a lot of jobs:
Just look at the outside evaluations of the stimulus. Perhaps the best-known economic research firms are IHS Global Insight, Macroeconomic Advisers and Moody's Economy.com. They all estimate that the bill has added 1.6 million to 1.8 million jobs so far and that its ultimate impact will be roughly 2.5 million jobs. The Congressional Budget Office, an independent agency, considers these estimates to be conservative.
Two and a half million jobs isn't enough to compensate for the 8 million jobs lost since this recession began, but it's a start.
Not only did the stimulus create jobs, it greatly increased spending on programs that will have collateral benefits. Incentives to make homes more energy efficient will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save consumers money that they can spend elsewhere. Money for sewer improvements will provide lasting gains in water quality (inadequate sewers and septic systems are a huge problem in Iowa). The stimulus included $8 billion for high-speed rail. It wasn't nearly enough, of course; we could have spent ten or twenty times that amount on improving our rail networks. But that $8 billion pot drew $102 billion in grant applications from 40 states and Washington, DC. The massive demand for high-speed rail stimulus funding increases the chance that Congress will allocate more funds for rail transportation in the future.
Unfortunately, most Americans don't believe the stimulus bill created jobs. That's largely because unemployment remains at a historically high level of 10 percent nationwide. Also, inflation-adjusted average weekly earnings have gone down during the past year. In addition, Republicans have stayed on message about the worthlessness of the stimulus bill, even though scores of them have hailed stimulus spending in their own states and districts.
Democrats on the House Labor and Education Committee released an ad that lists various popular stimulus bill provisions, such as increasing Pell Grants and teacher pay. The ad uses the tag line, "There's an act for that," naming the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act at the end. I don't think it's effective, because the ad doesn't include the word "stimulus." Few people will realize that the ARRA refers to the stimulus bill.
Bleeding Heartland readers, how do you view the stimulus one year later?