Here's where stimulus money is putting people to work

A first report card shows the federal Recovery Act money means hiring more electricians, carpenters, and others across the country. But it’s not necessarily in states with the highest unemployment rates.

By , Staff writer

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    US citizens can now search by state, zip code, and congressional district to view where government contracts are being awarded.
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Your economic stimulus money is helping to keep the lights on at an electrical contractor’ shop in Hawaii, the state where Barack Obama went to high school.

The price-tag: $366,578 for A-1 A-lectrician Inc. to do repairs and seismic upgrades at a federal building in Hilo.

That kind of detail is now available to the public, thanks to a White House pledge of transparency. The numbers, released Thursday on the www.recovery.gov website, allow US citizens to drill down by state, zip code, and congressional district to view where government contracts are being awarded.

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It's a tantalizing glimpse into the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the largest US stimulus effort ever. But it's just a glimpse.

So far, details on just $16 billion in ARRA contracts and grants are on view. Eventually that's slated to go much higher. (The total stimulus, reaching $787 billion, also includes money going toward tax cuts and aid to states.)

The spending faces close scrutiny to see if it's boosting the economy – and if there are signs of political cronyism.

A quick overview of the first $16 billion:

• So far, the state that tops the list in contract dollars per capita is Alaska. Who would have thought the home state of Republican politician Sarah Palin would top the list of federal largess, at about $378 per resident? (OK, some of you have heard of the bridge to nowhere, but anyway....) The money covers a new hospital in Nome and dredging the port of Anchorage. Second place goes to Washington State, thanks to big money for cleanup at the Hanford nuclear weapons site.

• The District of Columbia isn't a state, but little surprise that the nation's capital sees the biggest concentration of contracts – about $948 per resident.

• The states most desperate for jobs so far aren't getting them from new government spending. High-unemployment states such as Michigan, Nevada, and Florida rank low on the spending tally, while North Dakota, with the nation's lowest jobless rate, is in the top 10 for ARRA spending.

Pennsylvania residents have seen a higher-than-average dollar value of contracts, but plenty of other important electoral states (Florida, Ohio, New Hampshire, Iowa) rank below average so far.

• All 50 states have at least some stimulus coming in, the lowest being Rhode Island at about $6 million.

Wyoming, the home state of former vice president Dick Cheney, is one of the only Rocky Mountain states that hasn't scored above average in this first round of ARRA spending. No cause-effect relationship implied. Delaware, home to Vice President Joe Biden, equal's Wyoming's take at about $36 per resident. Mr. Biden has pledged to follow up on any signs of fraud or abuse within the stimulus program.

“It is too soon to draw any global conclusions from this partial and preliminary data,” Obama economic advisor Jared Bernstein said in a statement Thursday.

The effectiveness of the stimulus is a matter of heated political debate, because of its cost to taxpayers and because unemployment has risen faster than expected nationwide since the measure was passed in February.

White House analysts estimate the direct impact on jobs from the $16 billion in contracts to be quite small – employing about 30,000 people. But they say the overall stimulus effort, including ripple effects, is significant.

“All signs – from private estimates to this fragmentary data – point to the conclusion that the Recovery Act did indeed create or save about 1 million jobs in its first seven months, a much needed lift in a very difficult period for our economy,” Mr. Bernstein said.

The economy has lost 7 million jobs since the recession began.

Bernstein said the public database on stimulus spending will be expanded significantly on Oct. 30.

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