Monday, November 2, 2009

Jobs Again

There is an op-ed piece by Ed Lazear in today's Wall Street Journal. Lazear was chair of the Council of Economic Advisors under Bush. He writes that his final economic forecast while a part of the council predicted the economy would begin to recover in the third quarter, and this was without considering a stimulus plan. Of course, his forecast could have been overly optimistic, but it could also mean that the GDP growth in the third quarter was not due to the stimulus plan we have.

He also talks about the estimates of jobs created and the jobs retained as due to the stimulus. Recipients have to fill out a report providing the data. Lazear notes two problems with the reports. The first is reporting bias. A construction firm wanting additional funds may believe that it needs to err on the high side of estimates of jobs created or retained. Second, these programs are likely to count people who switch jobs as new hires.

I have written before on the methodology used by the government to estimate the jobs created and saved by the stimulus. It is a direct link to the spending, assuming so much money equates one job. It also measures job-years and not individuals. That is, a person who is hired as part of a two-year project would count as two jobs--one for each year. The Administration has been criticized for the way they are trying to estimate jobs created or saved, but they keep doing it. The process gives the illusion of precision that is only an illusion. The concept of a job saved is ok--grants sent to states that use the money as a stop-gap in cuts in schools will save some jobs of teachers. But to think we can measure these in a meaningful way is not legitimate.

Perhaps the members of the administration think that if you repeat something often enough, people will believe it must be true.

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