Everyone is keeping their eye on what will happen with Obama’s stimulus package. When it does pass, Obama pledges full “transparency,” so that “citizens can see how and where their tax dollars are being spent.” So as citizens, how can we best evaluate the appropriateness and effectiveness of projects that will be candidates for stimulus funding?
To help us, stimuluswatch.org has set up a site dedicated to helping “the new administration keep its pledge to invest stimulus money smartly, and to hold public officials to account for the taxpayer money they spend.” They provide a database of “proposed ‘shovel-ready’ projects” throughout the country which will be candidates for federal grant money as part of the stimulus package. The site offers the capability for citizens to view the proposals and decide if they think they are critical or not.
In order to help viewers better assess the appropriateness of these projects, we uploaded the data to Finder! and then used Maker! to compare where these projects will be and where jobs are most needed.
In the map below, we show the projects by the number of jobs that will be created. The larger circles are where more jobs will be created. We also show the change in unemployment by county between November of 2007 and November of 2008. The blue counties are where there was a decrease in unemployment, the white where there was a fairly small increase, and the yellow and orange areas show larger increases.
Taking a look at the country as a whole, it does seem that many of the projects are proposed in areas that have suffered job losses. This is particularly true for areas of Southern California, Florida and the Rust Belt. Areas in the center of the country, where there have been the some decreases in unemployment have less proposals for job creating projects.
Lets look more closely into an area to examine how the proposed projects are matching up to job losses. Georgia is one area that seems to have experienced a heavy loss in jobs over the past year.
You can see in the map above that there are many clusters of counties whose unemployment rate has increased by more than five percent in Georgia. None of these counties have a project planned in the direct vicinity. The county of Hancock Georgia has had the highest increase in unemployment and the third highest unemployment rate for this November of all the counties in the US. In November of 2007, its unemployment rate was 9.2 and in November of 2008 the rate reached 20.1, a 10.9 percent increase overall. The nearest proposed projects to Hancock are either an hour and a half away in Macon or an hour and forty minutes away in Conyers.
While the governor of Georgia may have good reasons for creating jobs in the proposed areas, it leaves one to wonder what will become of the towns, such as Hancock, who have suffered the greatest in this economic crisis.
Take a look at this map yourself in Maker!. You can zoom in to areas you are interested and decide for yourself the validity of these projects.
On the other hand, it is interesting that Illinois is fairly well represented here. Of the 891 projects in the country, 119 or 13.8% of them are in Illinois. While Illinois does have some yellow and orange counties, it is by no means the hardest hit state in the country in terms of unemployment. Does the state expect some favoritism from the new president?
At a closer look, the 119 projects in Illinois will create significantly fewer jobs then projects in other states. California, which faced the fourth highest unemployment rate in November, is proposing 93 projects which will produce 238,329 jobs.
The chart below provides 16 states with the highest unemployment rates in November along with the number of projects proposed in each state and the total number of jobs and the number of jobs per 1,000 people those projects will create.
States like Michigan and South Carolina, who need jobs the most are proposing projects that will create comparatively few jobs per capita. You can download a CSV of this dataset from Finder! and do your own analysis of the proposed projects.
Of course nobody is saying that the unemployment rates should be the only criteria as to where stimulus money should go. But if the package it going to truly address unemployment, projects that will add significant jobs to areas with high unemployment rates should be considered strong candidates for federal funding.
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