Estimated Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act on Employment and Economic Output as of September 2009

Posted on
November 30, 2009

Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), also known as the economic stimulus package, certain recipients of funds appropriated in ARRA (most grant recipients, contractors, and subcontractors) are required to report the number of jobs they have created or retained with ARRA funding since the law's enactment in February 2009. The law also requires CBO to comment on that reported number. Today CBO released a report to satisfy that requirement. The report also provides CBO's estimates of ARRA's overall impact on employment and economic outputas of the third quarter of calendar year2009. Those estimateswhich CBO considers more comprehensive than the recipients' reportsare based on evidence from similar policies enacted in the past and various economic models.

Limitations of Recipients' Estimates

Recipients report that about 640,000 jobs were created or retained with ARRA funding through September 2009. However, such reports do not provide a comprehensive estimate of the law's impact on employment in the United States. That impact may be higher or lower than the reported number for several reasons (in addition to any issues about the quality of the data in the reports). First, it is impossible to determine how many of the reported jobs would have existed in the absence of the stimulus package. Second, the reports filed by recipients measure only the jobs created by employers who received ARRA funding directly or by their immediate subcontractors (so-called primary and secondary recipients), not by lower-level subcontractors. Third, the reports do not attempt to measure the number of jobs that may have been created or retained indirectly as greater income for recipients and their employees boosted demand for products and services. Fourth, the recipients' reports cover only certain appropriations made under ARRA, which encompass only about one-quarter of the total amount spent by the government or conveyed through tax reductions in ARRA through September 2009. The reports do not measure the effects of other provisions of the stimulus package, such as tax cuts and transfer payments to individuals.

CBO's Estimates of ARRA's Impact on Employment and Economic Output

Estimating the law's overall effects on employment requires a more comprehensive analysis than the recipients' reports provide. Therefore, looking at the actual amounts spent so far (where identifiable) and estimates of the other effects of ARRA on spending and revenues, CBO has estimated the law's impact on employment and economic output using evidence about how previous similar policies have affected the economy and various mathematical models that represent the workings of the economy. On that basis, CBO estimates that in the third quarter of calendar year 2009, an additional 600,000 to 1.6 million people were employed in the United States, and real (inflation-adjusted) gross domestic product (GDP) was 1.2 percent to 3.2 percent higher, than would have been the case in the absence of ARRA. Those ranges are intended to encompass most economists' views and to reflect the uncertainty involved in such estimates.

CBO's current estimates differ only slightly from those CBO prepared in March 2009. At that time, CBO projected that in the third quarter of 2009, U.S. employment would be higher by 600,000 to 1.5 million people with ARRA than it would be without the law, and real GDP would be 1.1 percent to 3.0 percent higher. CBO's new estimates reflect small revisions to earlier projections of the timing and magnitude of changes to spending and revenues under ARRA. On the one hand, tax cuts through September are now estimated to be roughly $10 billion larger than originally projected (mainly because certain tax changes were carried out more quickly than anticipated); on the other hand, the net change in federal spending as a result of the legislation has turned out to be slightly smaller than CBO initially estimated.

CBO's current estimates do not reflect any change in the agency's assessment of the effect that each dollar of spending increase or revenue decrease has on output and employment. Since March, CBO has continued to examine new research on the relationships between changes in government policy and changes in output and employment. To date, that examination has generated no significant change in CBO's assessment of those relationships. CBO has also examined incoming data on output and employment during the period since ARRA's enactment. However, those data are not as helpful in determining ARRA's economic effects as might be supposed, because isolating the effects would require knowing what path the economy would have taken in the absence of the law. Because that path cannot be observed, the new data add only limited information about ARRA's impact. Economic output and employment in the spring and summer of 2009 were lower than CBO had projected at the beginning of the year. But in CBO's judgment, that outcome reflects greater-than-projected weakness in the underlying economy rather than lower-than-expected effects of ARRA.