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Fantasy Jobs?


At President Obama’s April 29 news conference, he claimed that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has "already saved or created over 150,000 jobs." Wait a minute. Isn’t the number of jobs actually plummeting?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the economy lost more than 1.3 million jobs in the two months after he took office, and it has probably lost at least another half-million in April. The day after Obama spoke, the Department of Labor announced that another 631,000 workers (seasonally adjusted) had filed new claims for unemployment insurance the previous week.

So what 150,000 jobs was Obama talking about?

It turns out the president’s claim is really an estimate of what his economic advisers think the stimulus bill is doing, and not based on any evidence of its actual effects.

We asked the White House for substantiation of Obama’s claim, and a spokesman responded that the figure comes from a recent estimate by the Council of Economic Advisers. "Because the baseline for employment is obviously still strongly downward," the spokesman told us, "the estimate does not mean that employment has risen by 150,000. Rather, it means that employment is 150,000 higher than it otherwise would have been." He said the figure is an estimate of people hired to work directly on ARRA-funded projects, plus "jobs created by the tax cuts, aid to the states, and other parts of the ARRA."

So when the president said his stimulus bill "already saved or created" those jobs, he was just giving an estimate produced by his own economic advisers at the White House. Furthermore, the jobs figure is based on projections done at the time ARRA was passed. Recipients of ARRA spending aren’t required to report until later what they’re doing with the money and how well it’s working, so there’s very little hard data on where the money is being spent, let alone how many jobs may have resulted from the legislation. The CEA incorporated some actual spending reports into its estimate, but that information is not complete.