HELENA – Montana is reporting that federal stimulus money funneled through the state has so far resulted in more than 4,100 jobs created or saved by the cash infusion, and that most of them came in education and government.
But state officials cautioned that the federal method for calculating does not paint a true picture of job growth, and that future reports may show fewer jobs, particularly in the education sector.
Montana, like every state, is required periodically to report on the results from each item the federal stimulus money was spent on, and report how many jobs were created, retained or otherwise saved. The state filed nearly 200 separate reports for each section of the stimulus spending.
Recent reports say that money spent so far — still only a portion of more than $800 million in federal stimulus money allocated by the state — has mostly benefited teaching and government jobs.
The reports come from the governor’s office, which is coordinating stimulus tracking efforts. They dealt only with jobs created by money allocated through the state government.
Not included were those created with money steered through federal agencies such as the Forest Service and the Department of Homeland Security. A White House report released Friday said that when all other sources were included, the stimulus package has created more than 6,400 jobs in Montana.
Schools — from K-12 to the college system — filed dozens and dozens of separate reports on everything from small grants to large cash infusions to their budgets. An Associated Press analysis of all the state reports showed the stimulus money was a boon to education.
The money resulted in more than 2,000 education jobs, everything from teachers to administration posts to graduate research assistants at the universities.
The next biggest winner came at the state government agencies, who so far report the spending created saved or retained roughly 1,300 government jobs.
David Ewer, the governor’s budget director, said the prescribed federal method for reporting the jobs does not necessarily reflect a permanent, full time equivalent hire. He said he expects there will be significant downward revisions in the estimates, particularly in the education field, in future reports.
“It is a snapshot. Frankly the federal government does not have a uniform for counting the job impact,” Ewer said. “It’s different in the education area, from the transportation area or the general government area.”
But Ewer said he believes the money has clearly boosted the nation’s economy and helped in Montana as well.
The state’s unemployment rate is 6.7 percent in September, which has been steadily rising from the record lows of three years ago but is far better than the national rate of 9.8 percent.
A leading economist says the state has an overall work force of about 400,000 people, so 4,000 jobs represents roughly 1 percent worth of employment.
Patrick Barkey, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research, said the claim on 4,000 jobs is plausible. But the larger question — determining how much the money really helped the economy — largely remains unanswered.
“I think actually it’s pretty early in the whole process to try to figure out the impact,” he said. “The difficult thing in determining impacts, is trying to determine what would have happened in the absence.”
A lot of the federal money is being spent on construction, with many projects still in the pipeline. So far, the state is reporting more than 260 highway construction jobs created or saved from the recession.
Other sectors reported far less direct benefit.
For instance, about 32 forestry jobs were helped by the money, in part with efforts to assist the industry with forest clean up efforts. And general law enforcement reported about 30 jobs created or saved.
When the Legislature allocated the money earlier this year, much was sent to “backfill” government and education spending. Big portions were earmarked to highway construction and other areas.
Barkey said detailed analysis that shows the true impact of the spending will come later with more detailed general unemployment reports, and after spending of stimulus money is completed.
“There still remains a whole lot left to be spent,” he said.
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