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Economists: Stimulus Might Create Fewer US Jobs Than Intended

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (middle)and Economist Allen Sinai speaking to reporters at US Capitol, 10 Mar 2009
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (middle)and Economist Allen Sinai speaking to reporters at US Capitol, 10 Mar 2009

A group of economists has told Democrats in Congress on Tuesday that it might take longer for the recently-passed $787 billion stimulus plan to generate the number of jobs lawmakers and President Barack Obama hoped it would.

Majority Democrats and President Obama identified job creation as a main objective of the economic stimulus package Congress approved last month.

However, in a meeting at the U.S. Capitol with House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders, four prominent economists dampened that expectation.

Allen Sinai, Chief Global Economist at Boston-based Decision Economics, Inc., says the number of jobs created by the stimulus plan might be "a bit disappointing."

"It's a little less than the administration and perhaps [House] Speaker have said. I think when you stretch it out over three years, because the program does go further, you get closer to that number," he said.

Sinai said he doesn't necessarily think another stimulus will be necessary, adding that the economy is in the process of healing itself and could improve significantly in 6 to 12 months.

But Mark Zandi of Moody's Economy.com in New York says that as difficult as 2009 has been so far, the rest of the year could be worse. He adds that Americans should prepare for the likelihood that more stimulus legislation will be needed. "We are going to need more taxpayer money up front. I think that another stimulus package is a reasonable probability, given the way things are going," he said.

House Speaker Pelosi agreed, saying Congress and the Obama administration must keep the door open to additional steps, even as the current stimulus plan begins to work.

Pelosi responded again to criticisms from minority Republicans that the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats are creating permanent increases in government programs and spending. "It's very important that the message not be that we have raised the base line for spending. We have not. We have a stimulus which is targeted in a time frame to make the difference," he said.

Republican leaders continued those criticisms on Tuesday. Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia assailed Democratic priorities in dealing with the recession, and President Obama's budget proposals. "People are afraid because they see proposals being offered every day here to raise their taxes," he said.

New York Representative, Democrat Charles Rangel said he hopes Republicans will stop opposing actions the administration has taken. "This is not a partisan issue. It is a national issue that demands at least the involvement of Republicans and when you see a divided Congress, there are people that wonder and worry," he said.

Economist Rebecca Blank with the Brookings Institution here in Washington was optimistic that positive results will come from efforts to prevent more job losses and mortgage defaults. But she pointed to a bleak economic picture, saying recovery - when it does begin - will be slow. "Currently, 12 1/2 million people are unemployed, and that is a lot of pain. And the bad news is it is going to get worse and we're not coming out of this fast. And particularly labor market numbers, [the] unemployment, and unemployment lags [behind] recovery - so even when an aggregate recovery starts, those numbers are not going to turn around immediately. They will be four to six months behind," she said.

House Financial Services Committee Chairman, Democrat Barney Frank expressed hope that steps taken so far will have a stimulative effect on the stock market. "I believe that what we are doing is very pro-market. We are dealing with some problems that the market faces today, and we are talking about putting in place in the future things that will help the market work better," he said.

Saying the difference between a sharp recession and a depression is a loss of faith, economist Mark Zandi said a restoration of confidence will be key to recovery. "That will be restored over the next few weeks [or] months as the policy efforts that have been put in place begin to take effect and people really see that it makes a difference. Right now, they just don't believe. And if they get some palpable signs of some improvement, I think things can turn [around] very quickly," he said.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs had no immediate reaction to the assessments Democrats received from the economists.

On the need for a second economic stimulus measure, Gibbs would only point to recent statistics, including unemployment numbers, saying they provide "a sobering reminder" of the many economic challenges Americans face.

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