A year after the 2009 stimulus: five ways to gauge the impact

Is the massive $787 billion spending package stimulating the economy? Here’s a look at the impact of the 2009 stimulus at the state level.

By , Staff writer

After a year of operation, President Obama's Recovery Act for the economy has generated controversy but is also drawing bipartisan praise in places where the money has reached.

Is the massive $787 billion spending package stimulating the economy? Here are five points of reference that go beyond that headline number to gauge its Main Street impact.

• California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is grateful for it. While Mr. Obama was on a podium in Washington Wednesday touting what the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) has accomplished, the Republican governor was standing on the site of an ARRA-funded highway expansion, holding his own celebration. "This money has been very, very helpful to a lot of struggling Californians," said Mr. Schwarzenegger. The state is the largest recipient of ARRA highway funds and high-speed rail funding, he said. He's not the only Republican at the state level who's glad to be on the receiving end of federal largess.

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• More money is headed to Vermont than to Florida. That's the case if you divide the Recovery Act money pledged so far by each state's population. You may not think of Vermont, Montana, or North Dakota as among the states hardest hit, but they're all recipients of above-average total obligations of Recovery Act money. On a nationwide basis, some $302 billion has been obligated in the 50 states, or nearly $1,000 per capita. Among the states most affected by the recession, many including California have gotten roughly average amounts. Florida appears to be an exception, currently slated to receive about $814 per resident.

• Jobs have been "created or saved." That's the operative White House phrase, since a prominent stimulus goal has been to prevent job losses that would have occurred without the act. Nationally, the White House reckons that 2 million people have jobs now that otherwise wouldn't exist and that this number will rise by another 1.5 million during 2010, before the stimulus effect fades. Some private forecasters see a smaller impact, with the total stimulus job count peaking at about 2.5 million. The jobs are created directly by things like road projects, but also by the more general impact of the ARRA tax cuts and unemployment benefits that have put extra cash in consumers’ pockets. That makes it tricky to know the precise number of jobs in each state, although the White House offers estimates on its www.recovery.gov website.

• Lots of the saved jobs are in the public sector. On Wednesday, Obama cited estimates that 300,000 teachers and tens of thousands of jobs in public safety (from police to first responders) have been saved as the Recovery Act helped to patch state budgets. But he warned that the ARRA money is running out and that "state budgets have not yet recovered." Congress may consider more emergency aid for states.

• The battery industry is getting more than just a recharge. Some industries are getting more help than others, since the Recovery Act also targets spending toward long-term priorities of the Obama administration. A key one is clean energy – and electric-vehicle batteries in particular. The result: Some states like Michigan and Massachusetts, as homes to battery or clean-energy firms, are big recipients of ARRA project funding. Will this revolutionize the car industry? We’ll see. Obama said Wednesday that America will have the capacity to produce 20 percent of the world's advanced batteries next year, up from 2 percent before the Recovery Act.

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