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Stephen Koff
By Stephen Koff August 18, 2010

Rep. Steve LaTourette says that the stimulus has done little for private jobs while the federal workforce is booming

To hear some members of Congress talk, the government’s gone on a hiring binge – at taxpayer expense -- while private-sector hiring is in the dumps. That’s not only lopsided, they say, but it wasn’t the way the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, better known as the stimulus bill, was supposed to work.

U.S. Rep. Steve LaTourette appears to hold this sentiment. Addressing a gathering of the Portage County Tea Party on July 6, the Bainbridge Township Republican noted how other nations are adopting austerity budgets to deal with their economic problems. Yet, LaTourette said, President Barack Obama seems to think that saving government money is a crazy idea,  and told world leaders as much during the Group of 20 summit in Canada in late June.

Obama "chastised them and he said, ‘You guys are nuts,’ " LaTourette said, according to a complete online video of LaTourette’s speech to the Tea Party group. Characterizing Obama’s statements further, LaTourette said the U.S. president told the globe’s economic leaders, "We need to spend more money. We need to stimulate the economy with government spending.’

"And so as a result," LaTourette told his Portage County audience, "since the president became the president, we have lost 3.3 million jobs in the private sector. But you know who's done OK and who's not complaining today? The public sector. We've gained 590,000 public sector jobs."

Is LaTourette correct? We at PolitiFact thought we should check it out.

We’ll deal with the numbers momentarily. As far as his characterization of Obama’s sentiments, some license for political hyperbole is in order. Obama doesn’t appear to have called fiscal austerity a nutty idea, and he actually agreed with the global leaders’ goal of halving their budget deficits by 2013.

But Obama also said just before the summit that nations must "be flexible" in how they cut spending. Withdrawing stimulus measures too quickly, he said, could trigger "renewed economic hardship and recession," according to news service reports. And he argued strongly against "any early slowing of stimulus spending by governments," according to a Voice of America report from the summit, "saying that it might bring about a second recession."  Transcripts of Obama’s closing news conference on June 29 in Toronto are consistent with that report.

But what about LaTourette’s numbers on hiring?

His numbers are right, but only after omitting a key qualifier. In January 2009, there were 110,961,000 private-sector jobs in this country, according to a database of employment statistics maintained by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS. By the end of May 2010, that number had dropped to 107,635,000.

That means a private-sector job loss of 3.3 million between January 2009 and May 2010, as LaTourette said.

As for public sector jobs, LaTourette was counting federal workers and not the state and local workforces, which have actually contracted. In January 2009, there were 2,803,000 federal employees. By May, there were 3,396,000 federal workers. That’s a gain of 593,000, putting LaTourette on the money.

But here’s the problem. BLS makes clear, the White House makes clear, and every major news report makes clear when these numbers are released each month that the stimulus had little to do with the growth of the federal workforce. Most of it -- 559,000  new jobs from January 2009 through May – came entirely from the temporary buildup of census workers. And many of those jobs have already disappeared.

For example, the government brought on 411,000 temporary U.S. Census Bureau workers in May 2010. But one month later, 225,000 temporary census workers completed their work and were let go. One month made that big a difference.

Exclude all the census workers hired from January 2009 through May 2010 and total federal hiring comes to only 34,000, not the 590,000 figure that LaTourette cited.

You could contend, as LaTourette’s office did when we contacted it initially, that BLS counts all these jobs in its online databases without separating or distinguishing the Census hires from the rest of the federal workers. That’s true. But BLS makes those distinctions elsewhere -- in its monthly releases of job numbers, and in a fact sheet on census hiring --  and distributes them widely to economists, policymakers, journalists and whatever segment of the public that might be interested.

The distinction for the census is crucial here because it was LaTourette who said that "as a result" of stimulating the economy, the public sector gained 590,000 jobs.

The government gained the jobs, but the stimulus had little to do with it. The hiring was planned before Obama became president, as were the rapid-fire census terminations occurring now . By saying there was a cause and effect, LaTourette went off the mark, but he was accurate with his private-sector number, so we rate his claim Half True.

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Our Sources

Rep. Steve LaTourette, speech to Portage County Tea Party, 7/6/2010

Bureau of Labor Statistics, search form for Table B1: Employees on nonfarm payrolls by industry sector and selected industry detail, accessed 8/11,2010

Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Census 2010 temporary and intermittent workers and Federal government employment"  

Canwest News Service, "Obama:  More stimulus necessary if economic recovery weakens,"  6/19/2010, accessed through Nexis

Voice of America News, "G20 Commits to Deficit Reduction Time Line," 6/27/2010, accessed through Nexis

Transcript, President Barack Obama’s news conference at conclusion of G-20 summit, 6/27/2010

The New York Times, "Jobs data casts pall over economic recovery," 6/4/2010

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