Recovery Act Groundhog Day: ARRA Jobs Data Continue to Perplex

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The sixth round of Recovery Act recipient data (covering the fourth quarter of 2010) has just been posted on Recovery.gov, and it feels like something out of the movie “Groundhog Day.” As with every previous round, the employment figures are both disappointing and frustrating. The disappointment comes from the fact that the total number of full-time equivalent jobs associated with ARRA funding in the quarter declined sharply, dropping more than 13 percent to 585,654. The drop in the previous quarter was about 10 percent.

The numbers are frustrating, because the very same anomalies I’ve been blogging about each quarter refuse to disappear. These include the strangely low job figures reporting by many ARRA grant and contract recipients. Of the 57,000 grant prime recipients reporting employment numbers, only 406 report more than 100 FTEs; among the nearly 13,000 ARRA prime contractors working directly for the federal government, the number is only 45. The average FTE among grant prime recipients is only 9, even though they have received an average of $1.7 million in ARRA funds; for federal contractors the FTE average is 4 despite an average payout of $1.1 million.

And once again, thousands of recipients report de minimis results, including more than 14,000 listing a fraction of one FTE. Some go as low as 0.01.

Moreover, the zero-job phenomenon is still present. As in previous quarters, a massive number of prime recipients (more than 23,000 this time) assert that their employees (and those of subrecipients), did not perform a single hour of work in connection with their ARRA grant or contract. If we exclude those whose project status is listed as “not started” or “less than 50 percent completed,” we are left with more than 13,000. If we then remove those that have not yet received any ARRA funds, we still have more than 12,000 (12,739 to be exact) zero-reporters. This is up from 10,772 in the previous quarter.

The Obama Administration and the Recovery Board continue to remain silent on these puzzling figures, and once again we are left to ask whether recipients are intentionally underreporting their job numbers. We know from overall unemployment data that many employers are refusing to expand their payroll because of weak demand for goods and services. But there is no good reason for companies that are carrying out well-paid projects for the federal government to claim that they are doing so with no workers at all.

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