Tracking The Stimulus
The website Recovery.org is an excellent site to track the status of the stimulus spending. Recovery.org is brought to us by Onvia.com and appears to be a public service tool that coincidentally also highlights the sort of services Onvia provides. The graph below was pulled from their website in late June/early July and so represents the approved spending as of that date.
There are many cool things about this site and I encourage anyone who’s interested to go there and explore for yourself. However, it is important to note that what this shows is approved spending projects. Projects that are merely planned but not yet approved do not appear to be listed in this system. Indeed, the total of all the projects tracked on this site (as of August 2009) was less than $75B or less than 10% of the total funds allocated to the stimulus. Nevertheless several questions spring to mind.
Washington state is clearly the state with the most stimulus funds as of June (or perhaps it’s tied with California for first place). We’d expect the state with the most funds to be either the state with the largest population or the highest unemployment rate. Washington state is neither of these. What’s going on? If you click on Washington state from recovery.org you’ll be directed to a view that shows stimlus spending by county. (cool eh?) At the time I pulled the above image one county in Washington had a single project in excess of $1.6 Billion (with a “B”). This accounted for the deep green hue of Washington state. That project? Cleanup of a nuclear facility.
As of today there is an additional project in WA state that is a significant expense, but this time it’s in the most populous county in the state. That project weighs in at more than $1.9 Billion (with a “B”) and is a just a segment of a light rail project.
It is even more interesting to compare this graph with the unemployment rate graph from the same time frame. After all, the stimulus is supposed to make jobs so it makes sense to pump money into those states with the highest unemployment (either absolute or relative). Below I’ve placed the 2 graphics side-by-side for easy comparison. Note, the blue graph comes via the Bureau of Labor Statistics website and it is the unemployment rate. There is some overlap here, California has a high unemployment rate and is getting a lot of stimulus money, but there are areas of little overlap. We’ve already discussed Washington state, Michigan is only getting moderate stimulus funds while its unemployment rate is the highest in the nation. Colorado is getting a good chunk of stimulus money while its unemployment rate is relatively healthy. Oregon is getting relatively little stimulus money while its unemployment rate is #3 in the nation. Alabama and Mississippi have high unemployment with little stimulus money to help offset their woes.
click each graph above for a larger view
Shovel-ready was the buzz phrase for the initial stimulus projects and if you poke around the recovery.org site the project descriptions make them sound like the shovel ready ones. Some, like I suspect the Washington State Hanford Nuclear clean up project, may even have been in the queue for funding well before the stimulus was a gleam in the Democrats eyes. However, eventually the government will have to balance shovel ready with shovel needy and allocate funds to on a needs-first basis and let shovel-ready take a secondary position in the criteria.
In terms of percent unemployment the stimulus spending is not quite targeting the right states as discussed above, but in terms of total unemployment the picture is just a touch more balanced. The states with the most number of people unemployed are:
and these states are among the darker colored states in the funding graph (but not quite the darkest, Texas and Florida could do with more stimulus).
The question is which unemployment number should be the comparison point with the spending dollars? The relative unemployment rate or the total number of people unemployed? Michigan with 15.2% unemployment but only 740,000 people unemployed may well be hurting worse than California with only 11.6% unemployment but with 2,100,000 unemployed. A way to compare this that may be more fair is to compare the spending dollars to the job-loss dollars. If $100 million of annual salary were lost in a state then $100 million in stimulus for that state would seem fair. That would be what we all expect a balanced stimulus spending plan would accomplish anyway, replace lost wages. Unfortunately the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t track this statistic. But I may yet find a substitute.