Stimulus Recipients “Have Strong Incentives to Inflate Their Reported Numbers”

(p. A19) After reporting GDP, the government released new numbers claiming that the stimulus programs have “created or saved” over a million jobs. These data were collected from responses by government agencies that received federal funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Agencies were required to report “an estimate of the number of jobs created and the number of jobs retained by the project or activity.” This report is required of all recipients (generally private contractors) of agency funds.

Unfortunately, these data are not reliable indicators of job creation nor of the even vaguer notion of job retention. There are two major problems. The first and most obvious is reporting bias. Recipients have strong incentives to inflate their reported numbers. In a race for federal dollars, contractors may assume that the programs that show the most job creation may be favored by the government when it allocates additional stimulus funds.
No dishonesty on the part of recipients is implied or required. But when a hire conceivably can be classified as resulting from the stimulus money, recipients have every incentive to classify the hire as such. Classification as stimulus-induced is even more likely if a respondent must only say that, except for the money, an employee would have been fired. In this case, no hiring need occur at all.
. . .
Net labor market figures do exist. Administrations have always been held to the time-tested and well-understood monthly job numbers put out by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which reports the unemployment rate and the net job gain or loss for the economy as a whole. It is important to use reliable, accurate and well-understood numbers to determine the true causes of recovery. The unemployment rate, now at 9.8%, has continued to rise, and job losses have remained at high levels throughout the stimulus period. Few will be comforted by the good-news-only claim that the stimulus “created or saved” over one million jobs.

For the full commentary, see:
EDWARD P. LAZEAR. “Stimulus and the Jobless Recovery; Jobs ‘created or saved’ is meaningless. What matters is net job gain or loss, and that means the unemployment rate.” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., NOVEMBER 2, 2009): A19.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the article was dated Nov. 1st.)

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