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White House: Nearly 10,000 jobs in Oregon from stimulus

PORTLAND — The Obama administration says Oregon is better off to the tune of nearly 10,000 jobs because of the federal stimulus program, but assessing the impact of stimulus spending remains largely a subjective exercise.

That is not a large number stacked up against the 125,000 jobs the recession is expected to cost the state, the 200,000 people currently drawing unemployment benefits or the 650,000 food stamps recipients. But it's a starting point for understanding what the stimulus means to Oregon.

The latest tally on the Obama administration's Web site puts the estimated number of jobs "saved or created" at the equivalent of about 9,600. The figure is intended to express in full-time equivalents the variety of jobs it covers: full-time, part-time and temporary.

But the figure represents only part of the sprawling package, the part tied to money granted to the state government or spent on contracts in Oregon by federal agencies. The stimulus package also includes a variety of tax cuts and other benefits expected to lift the economy.

Early on, the Obama administration estimated the stimulus bill would be worth the equivalent of 44,000 jobs in the Oregon.

An analysis from Oregon state agencies, using a different economic model, puts the impact far lower, saying the stimulus package will "support" more than 30,000 jobs in the state over about the first two years.

The agency analysis also provided the largest estimate yet of Oregon's share of the $787 billion national program: $10 billion.

There's abundant evidence of the spending in Oregon: teachers in the classroom, construction workers repaving state highways, crews thinning crowded forests of wildfire fuel. There's a wealth of data on government Web sites about where the billions are going.

When Gov. Ted Kulongoski made the first report this fall on the impact of stimulus spending in Oregon, he said it was working as intended, to blunt a steep downturn.

Economists say that estimating whether and how much Oregon has benefited involves making "what if" assumptions about the course of the economy had there been no package, and they are of divided opinion.

"The truth is, we will never really know how much it helped, we can only make educated guesses," said Patrick Emerson, associate professor of economics at Oregon State University.

Its defenders say the stimulus program has mitigated the damage the recession done in Oregon, where unemployment rocketed in the spring to 12.2 percent, second highest in the nation, before dropping by a percentage point in the fall. It is now seventh highest in the nation.

The state's recovery may be anemic. A new forecast says jobs won't grow until the middle of next year, and it may be 2013 before the state recovers those lost in the recession.

"Now, more than ever, we need to keep investing in ways that create jobs," said Brian Shipley, deputy chief of staff for Kulongoski and overseer of stimulus spending from the state.

Emerson said in an e-mail exchange from Oregon State that the stimulus package "is largely responsible for the arresting of the dramatic job losses the economy suffered through most of the year. This, in turn, has helped ease the sense of panic among households and businesses."

The stimulus has laid a foundation for growth, but the recovery will be slow, he said.

Randall Pozdena, a Portland economist with the consulting firm ECONorthwest, said theory suggests to him that whatever benefit the stimulus package provided is offset by the tendency of people to curtail spending and investment out of fear that they or their children would eventually have to pay for the package, financed by borrowing.

"In the long run, it may do more damage than good," he said.

Bob Tiernan, the state Republican chairman, said the stimulus has encouraged Democrats who control most of state government to continue overly generous pay and benefits for state employees and teachers, and to add programs such as Kulongoski's green energy initiatives.

"I think it's a complete waste of money," he said.

On the Net: Federal stimulus site: recovery.gov/Pages/home.aspx Oregon stimulus site: oregon.gov/recovery