by Lisa Lambert
WASHINGTON The U.S. economic stimulus plan has created or saved 150,000 jobs since it was enacted 100 days ago, top White House economic officials said on Wednesday, relying on projections instead of an actual tally of workers.
President Barack Obama pressed the U.S. Congress to pass the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act this winter with the promise it would generate or retain at least 3 million jobs.
With the country's unemployment rate standing at 8.9 percent, its highest in more than a quarter of a century, Americans are eager for that promise to come true. But quantifying its realization is proving difficult.
"In every state across this country, people are at work who would not have been so but for the measures in this act," Jared Bernstein, chief economic advisor to Vice President Joe Biden, told a conference call with reporters. "That's a tremendous dose of medicine into an economy that's finally showing some signs of breaking its fever."
The White House, Bernstein said, is projecting what the level of employment would have been if the stimulus had not passed in February. It is then comparing that baseline to actual employment numbers. Using that method, Bernstein also expects another 600,000 jobs to be created or saved in the next 100 days.
Speaking on the same conference call, Rob Nabors, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, said that more $112 billion in stimulus money had already been committed over the last 100 days, which means that the money has been promised but not necessarily distributed.
Biden recently said the act is on track to generate or save 3.5 million jobs by September 2010.
U.S. states, though, have asked for further guidance from the White House on definitions of "jobs retained and jobs created" and have said the stimulus plan did not allot any money for them to administer their parts of the plan, which includes collecting the workforce data. The U.S. Congress is currently weighing legislation to provide additional money to states.
The Council of Economic Advisers, part of the Obama administration, is putting together an estimate of "direct, indirect and induced jobs," while the budget office is developing a system for contractors to report numbers of workers they have brought on for stimulus projects.
Bernstein said that any White House count cannot be precise enough to measure a jobs boost on a monthly basis.
In the mean-time, the House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee asked states to count "direct, on-project jobs created or sustained" through stimulus funding for water, highway and public transit -- programs intended to bring the most employment relief. It reported last week it found a total of less than 7,700 jobs.
"The fact that the unemployment rate is going up or the fact that we are losing jobs, again, should not be taken as evidence that the plan is ineffective," Bernstein said. "To the contrary, the unemployment rate would rise more quickly, job loss would be deeper in the absence of the act."