The Economic Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 First Quarterly Report

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As part of the unprecedented accountability and transparency provisions included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), the Council of Economic Advisers was charged with providing to Congress quarterly reports on the effects of the Recovery Act on overall economic activity, and on employment in particular. In this first report, we provide an assessment of the effects of the Act in its first six months.

Evaluating the impact of countercyclical macroeconomic policy is inherently difficult because we do not observe what would have happened to the economy in the absence of policy. And the sooner the evaluation is done after passage, the less data one has about key economic indicators. Any estimates of the impact of the ARRA at this early stage must therefore be regarded as preliminary and understood to be subject to considerable uncertainty. In this regard, it is important to note that there has not yet been any direct reporting by recipients of ARRA funds on job retention and creation. Such direct reporting data will be evaluated and incorporated in future reports.

Because of the inherent difficulties in the analysis, we approach the task of estimating the impact of the Recovery Act from a number of different directions. Our multi-faceted analysis suggests that the ARRA has had a substantial positive impact on the growth of real gross domestic product (GDP) and on employment in the second and third quarters of 2009. That various approaches yield similar estimates increases the confidence one can have in the results.

Among the key finding of the study are:

  • As of the end of August, $151.4 billion of the original $787 billion has been outlaid or has gone to American taxpayers and businesses in the form of tax reductions. An additional $128.2 billion has been obligated, which means that the money is available to recipients once they make expenditures. The areas where stimulus has been largest in the first six months are individual tax cuts, state fiscal relief, and aid to those most directly hurt by the recession. That recovery funds have gone out rapidly certainly increases the probability that the Act has been effective in its first six months.
  • Following implementation of the ARRA, the trajectory of the economy changed materially toward moderating output decline and job loss. The decomposition of the GDP and employment change by components or sector suggests that the ARRA has played a key role in this change of trajectory.
  • Estimates of the impact of the ARRA made by comparing actual economic performance to the predictions of a plausible, statistical baseline suggest that the Recovery Act added roughly 2.3 percentage points to real GDP growth in the second quarter and is likely to add even more to growth in the third quarter.
  • This analysis indicates that the ARRA and other policy actions caused employment in August to be slightly more than 1 million jobs higher than it otherwise would have been. We estimate that the Act has had particularly strong effects in manufacturing, construction, retail trade, and temporary employment services. The employment effects are distributed across states, with larger effects in states more severely impacted by the recession.
  • In addition to the estimates based on statistical projection, we provide estimates of the effects of the ARRA from standard economic models. Both our multiplier analysis and estimates from a wide range of private and public sector forecasters confirm the estimates from the statistical projection analysis. There is broad agreement that the ARRA has added between 2 and 3 percentage points to baseline real GDP growth in the second quarter of 2009 and around 3 percentage points in the third quarter. There is also broad agreement that it has likely added between 600,000 and 1.1 million to employment (again, relative to what would have happened without stimulus) as of the third quarter.
  • Fiscal stimulus appears to be effective in mitigating the worldwide recession. Nearly every industrialized country and many emerging economies responded to the severe financial crisis and recession by enacting fiscal stimulus. However, countries differed greatly in the size of their fiscal actions. We find that countries that adopted larger fiscal stimulus packages have outperformed expectations relative to those adopting smaller packages.
  • State fiscal relief was one of the ways in which the Recovery Act was able to provide support for the economy most quickly, and it played a critical role in helping states facing large budget shortfalls because of the recession. Our analysis indicates that state fiscal relief increased employment at the state level relative to what would have happened without stimulus. Thus, this analysis both provides evidence of how one particular type of fiscal stimulus impacts the economy and corroborates the more fundamental finding that fiscal stimulus in general is an effective countercyclical tool.

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