The Economy Today: Stimulus Struggles

Headlines from Staten Island, South Carolina, Vermont and elsewhere

As the economy continues to founder, the debate over the effect of the federal stimulus package continues to heat up. Obama administration officials called in reporters yesterday to lay out arguments in support of their approach, reports the Los Angeles Times, which boil down to the claim that “the stimulus package had made the downturn ‘less worse.’” And the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports on Vice President Joe Biden’s trip to Virginia, where he defended the package on the home turf of House GOP Whip Eric Cantor. Said Biden: “The very guy who says this [stimulus] is not working wants to make sure you get high-speed rail… . Now where do you think that money is coming from?”

Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress announced that they plan to continue to hammer Obama on the economy. They may find some ammunition in a Bloomberg story today headlined, “Obama Stimulus Fails to Reboot Economy as No Multiplier Effect.” (The story quotes former CBO Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin in the fourth graf, but fails to note that he was a key advisor to the McCain campaign.) The Associated Press takes on the stimulus from another angle, reporting that the Defense Department has been awarding stimulus funds to small construction companies through no-bid contracts. This means the government is paying higher costs than it would otherwise, though it also means government funds are disbursed more quickly.

In regional papers, a new round of data on jobs means a new round of unemployment stories. In South Carolina, the unemployment rate reached 12.1 percent in June, according to The State. In Staten Island, joblessness averaged 8.2 percent for the month, a six-year high, reports the Staten Island Advance. And in the Buffalo Niagara region, where 13,000 jobs have been lost over the last year, the June unemployment rate of 8.9 percent was the highest on record for that month, reports The Buffalo News. Meanwhile, a columnist for The Baltimore Sun notices that the gap between male and female unemployment rates is at an unprecedented level; some men are coping with the “he-cession” by moving into traditionally female sectors such as health care and education.

All this bad news is taking its toll on state budgets, and not just in California. Revenues from taxes and other sources are plummeting, forcing states to borrow billions and put off payments, reports The Wall Street Journal. According to The Barre-Montepelier Times-Argus, the Vermont state budget passed only a few weeks ago already has a $28 million shortfall.

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Greg Marx is an associate editor at CJR. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.