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Much-Promoted Stimulus Package Disappoints Many

New America Media, News Report//Video, Aaron Glantz//Video: Aaron Glantz and Rupa Dev Posted: Aug 20, 2009

Los Angeles Stimulus from New America Media on Vimeo

LOS ANGELES, Calif. --- Kokayi Kwa Jitahidi spreads his arms and speaks with a booming voice as he describes his disappointment with Pres. Barack Obamas much-promoted stimulus package.

The long-time activist, who now works as director of civic engagement at the Community Coalition of South Los Angeles, says his organization had hoped the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) would spur development in his community of over one million people, which has been without a major shopping center since the Rodney King riots in 1992.

Last November, we all voted for hope and change you can believe in, Jitahidi said at a news briefing organized by New America Media. Now we find that stimulus funds cannot be used on projects in our communities because they are not shovel ready.

There may be many good reasons for this, he added. But this is not the change we hoped for when we voted for President Obama.

Jitahdi is not alone in his disappointment with the stimulus package, which at $787 billion has been called the largest public investment in Americas infrastructure since the Great Depression.

The package includes $288 billion for tax cuts and $499 billion in new spending on everything from extended unemployment benefits to rehabilitating aging roads and bridges, to constructing a new broadband internet infrastructure for rural America.

When he signed the bill in February, Obama called the stimulus the most sweeping economic recovery bill in our history.

But a USA Today/Gallup Poll released this week found 57 percent of adults surveyed said the stimulus package is having no impact on the economy or is making it worse. Even more 60 percent -- told pollsters they doubt the stimulus plan will help the economy in the year ahead, and only 18 percent said it had done anything to help improve their personal situation.

The frustration is not surprising. In the six months since Obama signed the Recovery Act, the nations unemployment rate has continued to climb from 8.1 percent in February to 9.4 percent in July shedding an average of 331,000 every month from May to July.

More than 14 percent of blacks and 12 percent of Hispanics are without work, and nearly every sector continues to shed jobs. The Labor Department reports that in July alone 76,000 construction workers, 52,000 factory workers, and 44,000 workers in the retail sector lost their jobs. Employment in the professional and business sectors also continued to decline in that same month, losing 38,000 jobs. The transportation and warehousing sector lost 22,000 jobs.

"There's not a lot of money in the stimulus package for economic development," Los Angeles' Deputy Mayor Diego Alvarez said. His boss, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaragosa, sits on the President's Recovery Task Force.

For many Americans those statistics and our countrys continued economic morass -- stand in stark contrast to what Obama promised when he signed the stimulus bill.

Today marks the beginning of the end [of the recession], Obama told reporters at the time, the beginning of what we need to do to create jobs for Americans scrambling in the wake of layoffs, the beginning of relief for families worried they wont be able to pay next months bills.

Conservatives and Republicans in Congress say the recessions persistence in the wake of the stimulus bill provides proof that government intervention in the economy does not work.

Other observers counter that the sad state of Americas economy today means the country would have been in even worse shape without the Recovery Act.

This was a disaster recovery project, said Jean Ross, executive director of the California Budget Project, at the NAM briefing. Think of an earthquake, think of a flood, think of something really bad happening and theyre bringing in a recovery crew.

The question to ask, Ross said, is not how many jobs have been created as a result of the stimulus act, but how many workers have not been laid off as a result of a direct infusion of cash from the federal government.

In Los Angeles, for example, the L.A. Unified School District has received more than $359 million in federal stimulus money. For the most part, the LAUSD hasnt used that to hire additional teachers, but to off-set massive state budget cuts.

This bill is not designed to change the economy, Ross said, its designed to rescue an economy that was headed in a circular spiral downward at an ever-increasing rate.

All of this comes as small comfort to Americans who heard their president promise that the Recovery Act would lead to an array of new roads, bridges, fast internet access, and a mountain of green collar jobs.

But the stimulus bill is making an impact, if only to forestall a complete economic meltdown.

Aaron Glantz is NAM's Stimulus Editor

Clarification: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Jean Ross thought the stimulus funding was oversold.

Related Articles:

New America Media Stimulus Watch Fellowships for Ethnic Media Journalists

Minority Contractors Unite to Demand Share of Stimulus Dollars

California EconoTalk

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