Audit D.C. Notes: State Stats, Jobs Plan, Card Clues

USA Today does good work with its own state-by-state analysis of the stimulus program and the relationship between state unemployment rates and stimulus benefits. The findings might not be what you expected:

States with the highest jobless rates are getting less money per person under the federal stimulus program than states with below-average unemployment, a USA TODAY analysis finds.

The paper explains that stimulus benefits skew to better-off states because of longtime federal spending formulas that consider factors like income, population density, and highway fatalities, but usually not unemployment. The results are fascinating:

Hard-hit Florida ranks last in stimulus benefits per resident despite having the nation’s fifth-highest unemployment rate. Nevada has the nation’s worst unemployment — 14.2% — but ranks 46th in stimulus benefits.

By contrast, North Dakota has the nation’s lowest jobless rate — 3.6% — but ranks fourth in stimulus benefits. Alaska ranks No. 1 in stimulus aid — $3,505 per person — and has a jobless rate below the 9.5% national rate.

This is a topic that’s sure to come back as the midterm election season heats up, and lawmakers from high unemployment states have to explain those funding figures. Nice work.

(h/t Dean Baker)

—The New Republic’s William Galston puts forward an interesting plan for wrestling with the stubbornly high unemployment rate.

Galston starts from the premise that “further Keynesian stimulus would probably prove unequal to the task,” and direct job creation and hiring by the federal government would just cost too much. From there, he argues that, over the past generation, the country has “systematically underinvested in the foundation of an efficient economy and society—namely, infrastructure.”

That’s where his idea comes in:

The traditional response is to use the federal government’s taxing authority to raise infrastructure funds, and appropriations to fund specific projects. This model has hit a wall: not only will it be very difficult to raise taxes in current or foreseeable circumstances, but there’s also the problem of how local and special interests influence, even determine, project selection for reasons that have nothing to do with economic efficiency.

We need a new model. Today, we have trillions of dollars of capital sitting on the sidelines earning almost no return, and millions of long-term unemployed workers who would be thrilled to receive a steady paycheck again. The task is to bring these two factors of production together around projects that make sense.

It’s worth reading the whole (relatively short) post, for details about exactly he has in mind (and why he thinks it will work). It’s also a good reminder that everyone hasn’t given up hope of tackling the unemployment problem.

—Kevin Drum digs into the heart of a matter I didn’t even know I should be worried about: the code that appears on the back of every Social Security number.

This is different from your Social Security number (which appears on the front of the card), and Drum uncovers a lot of online theorist who attempt to explain it.

My favorite:

Looking for more information on the red numbers on the back of the SS card. A guy I met told me he pays his monthly bills using that number. It is supposedly a bank routing number attached to the British bank some people here have mentioned. Does anyone have any more specifics on this?

Drum also does some of his own digging, and comes up with what appears to be the real answer. His source is a U.S. bankruptcy trustee, who should know what he’s talking. But I don’t want to give away the big secret. Click and learn.

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Holly Yeager is CJR's Peterson Fellow, covering fiscal and economic policy. She is based in Washington and reachable at