Thursday, February 18, 2010

Of counselors and drunk mice -- Feb. 18, 2010 column


Nearly forgotten in the political fight over last year’s $862 billion stimulus package are the two million people who do have jobs because of it.

We’ve heard more about the three million jobs lost since President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act a year ago. The layoffs are truly disheartening, no matter one’s politics, and everyone agrees that a 9.7 percent unemployment rate is too high.

But here’s House minority leader John Boehner, R-Ohio: “Americans are asking, 'where are the jobs?' but all they are getting from Democrats who control Washington is more spending and more debt piled on the backs of our kids and grandkids.”

That’s all they’re getting? Well, not exactly. We no longer are heading toward a depression. The economy shows signs of life. Some people are getting or keeping jobs.

It behooves Republicans to persuade voters the Recovery Act is a disaster. Not one Republican in the House voted for it although, as the president and others have observed, that hasn’t stopped GOP lawmakers from showing up to cut ribbons on projects funded by the stimulus package they opposed.

And Republicans are winning the war of public opinion. Fifty-six percent of people surveyed by CNN/Opinion Research Corp. last month opposed the stimulus package and only 42 percent supported it. The poll offered one surprising bright spot for Obama. While most people opposed the stimulus, 58 percent thought it had stabilized or improved the economy.

With congressional Democrats anxious about November’s elections, Obama booted up the White House message machine. Two million Americans who otherwise would be unemployed are working today because of the Recovery Act, he said, and more jobs are on the way.

But the president also conceded Wednesday, “It doesn’t yet feel like much of a recovery.”

Vice President Joe Biden and the Cabinet went on the road. Christina Romer, head of the Council of Economic Advisers, blogged about hopeful economic numbers. The White House Blog highlighted “What You May Have Missed About the Recovery Act." It featured a Department of Education video about three high school guidance counselors in Fairfax County, Va., who held onto their jobs because of stimulus money.

The six-minute documentary takes viewers down gleaming halls and into classrooms of three schools, where the counselors’ dedication to their work is palpable. When Sue Synan of Mount Vernon High School says, “I absolutely love my job,” there’s no doubt.

Fairfax County was about to lay off 58 guidance counselors when $23.7 million in stimulus funds came through. It’s heartwarming to see how grateful Synan, Jon-Paul Sousa and Jill Wilson are.

Yes, I know these counselors may yet face cutbacks when the stimulus money ends. And, we’d also like to see more jobs in the private sector. But in 2010, a paycheck is a paycheck.

Critics may say the White House is engaging in taxpayer-paid propaganda. Every White House uses the PR tools at its disposal, and today that means Twitter, blogs and Web videos.

Nobody wants to see tax money wasted, however. I’m as skeptical as the taxpayer watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste about such porcine projects as the federal contract to get mice drunk in Florida.

Florida Atlantic University got $8,408 in stimulus money last summer and had two undergraduate research assistants ply mice with ethanol to see how their spatial skills were affected. I’m prepared to believe that science works in mysterious ways, but I wonder about this supposed creation of 0.92 jobs.

An analyst at, run by Citizens Against Government Waste, said, “They hired 2 students to work for 11 weeks…for a total of 22 weeks of work. If they actually created 0.92 jobs with that money, you would have to assume they are paying less than $4.40 per hour (less than minimum wage) and that the university uses none of the funds for overhead or materials (which never happens).”

Such reports – even about miniscule grants -- fuel distrust of the government and the recovery. Better news is that $69 billion in Recovery Act education grants has gone to states. That means more than 300,000 jobs will be created or saved for teachers, principals, librarians and counselors.

© 2010 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

  1. In this report on the Stimulus, Marsha Mercer is balanced and thoughtful in presenting its pros and cons. benefits and costs, and desirable and undesirable features. On balance, she makes the case that some stimulus is better than no stimulus.