WASHINGTON -- Anyone watching the network nightly news reports last week heard a sanitized review on the one-year anniversary of President Obama's $800 billion economic-spending stimulus experiment.
The talking points coming out of the White House said that the spending binge, whose real cost is now about $900 billion (counting interest on the debt it incurred), saved the economy from a depression and that it was responsible for creating or preserving 2 million jobs. The preservation part is largely concentrated in state and local government programs that say they would have laid off workers if not for the federal money they received.
But many economic analysts and groups who have been monitoring all of this spending for waste, fraud or abuse either question the veracity of these numbers or maintain that there is no truly objective way to verify how many jobs have been truly saved.
The nightly news reports tended to give the White House's claims the benefit of the doubt and expressed little if any skepticism about Obama's claim that all of this spending, much of it in large part for non-job-creation safety-net programs, somehow averted a depression and turned the U.S. economy around. That's more credit than they deserve.
For one thing, the Great Recession officially began near the end of 2007, and the economy is said to have begun expanding last summer, several months or so after the spending stimulus was enacted and just getting started. It's hard to believe the Obama stimulus, which by that time had pumped relatively little money into the economy's pipeline, had much if any stimulative effect at all.
Something else was helping the economy get back on its feet, and most economic analysts think that was the Federal Reserve's near-zero interest rates and other heavy-duty actions to shore up the economy and stop the financial system's hemorrhaging.
The economy has lost 8.4 million jobs since December 2007 when the national unemployment rate was a low 5 percent. As of last month, it was losing another 20,000 more jobs. The annualized jobless rate fell to 9.7 percent only because thousands of discouraged, jobless Americans stopped looking for work and were not counted as unemployed. Add them into the equation, plus millions only working part time, and the rate of unemployment is 17 percent or more.