From the minute President Obama declared that the $787 billion federal economic stimulus package would save or create 3.5 million jobs, state officials have been confused about how to count those jobs.
Now, four months later, the White House has offered states guidance . The advice includes a description of the programs subject to the job-reporting requirements.
"All we're asking them (states) to do is a simple headcount," Rob Nabors, deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, told the Wall Street Journal .
In other words, he said, recipients of federal stimulus dollars should use their best guess as to whether a job would have been saved or created if the stimulus plan had not been approved.
Some critics say such leeway could lead to contractors and state officials inflating the job numbers, or undercounting. They also worry that employers, in reporting to states the number of jobs generated or saved, will not be diligent about including subcontractors.
"It also seems that OMB is not imposing strict rules on how employers measure the number of jobs retained as a result of stimulus funding and is willing to let them lump together jobs created and jobs retained," said Good Jobs First, a national jobs policy resource center in Washington, D.C.
Despite the steady rise in the unemployment rate, employers in many states said in a New York Times article that they are desperate to fill jobs in certain occupations in which workers have precise skills polished over many years.
Welders, special education teachers, geotechnical engineers for oil fields, civil engineers and respiratory therapists are among the jobs in high demand.
Meantime, the Obama administration has sent a letter to Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) warning that stimulus money intended for schools should not be used to cover budget gaps. "Each state has an obligation to play its part in spurring today's economy and protecting our children's education," wrote Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
The Pennsylvania Senate has been considering a plan to use stimulus money to help close a budget gap while trimming the state education budget and keeping its rainy day fund intact.. "We can only spend what we have, and the state should not increase taxes when so many hardworking families are already struggling to make ends meet," Erik Arneson, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, told the Associated Press .
Rendell, who sought the administration's opinion, disagreed. "The state must make sure we do not simply use stimulus funds to cut state funding for schools," Rendell spokesman Chuck Ardo told the AP.