The Associated Press stirred up a controversy Monday when it released an analysis of stimulus spending on roads and bridges that concluded the spending has had no effect on local unemployment rates and has only barely helped the beleaguered construction industry.
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood immediately accused the AP of comparing "apples and oranges” in a blog entry titled "AP misses the transportation stimulus jobs forest for the trees.” Construction industry economist Ken Simonson added his criticism, issuing a news release in which he accused the AP of using "flawed” fundamental assumptions. "This administration’s transportation stimulus spending is putting people to work,” LaHood insisted in his blog entry. LaHood said the highway and road construction industry totals about 258,000 jobs out of an overall national work force of 132 million jobs, so it is unrealistic to expect an increase in spending on highway construction to have a major impact on the nation’s unemployment rate. Similarly, Simonson said highway construction only accounts for about 5 percent of the domestic construction work force, so a $4 billion net increase in highway construction activity last year can’t be expected to lift the overall construction industry, which experienced a $137 billion decline between November 2008 and 2009. Terri Angier, state Transportation Department spokeswoman, said it’s difficult to measure jobs sustained and created by stimulus funds, but a report issued for federal government officials placed the number of such stimulus-related highway construction jobs in Oklahoma at 6,785.