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AP Misses the Transportation Stimulus Jobs Forest for the Trees

Transportation Secretary LaHood takes on an AP article skeptical of transportation stimulus spending's effect on employment.

Today, the Associated Press published an article skeptical of transportation stimulus spending's effect on employment. Now, I'm all for a vigilant press to help keep our government effective. But this story is missing the point. This Administration's transportation stimulus spending is putting people to work.

According to AP's analysis, "a surge in spending on roads and bridges has only barely helped the beleaguered construction industry."

That's what my math teachers used to call comparing "apples and oranges." Referring to the "construction industry" when transportation stimulus spending is only designed to help the transportation construction industry.

You see, the highway and road construction industry totals about 258,000 jobs out of an overall national work force of 132 million jobs. If you're keeping score at home, that means only two-tenths of one percent of the American employment is in highway and road work.

And, not only is transportation construction less than a percent of all employment, it's also only a tiny sliver of the total construction picture.

The same can be said of transportation's role in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Transportation stimulus dollars make up only 7% of that nearly $800 billion package.

But, when we drill down to the transportation construction industry, the most appropriate basis for analysis, we find Recovery Act spending making a real difference in people's lives.

Just last week, the Census Bureau reported that highway and street construction spending in November was 5.7% higher than it was in November a year ago, and other public transportation construction spending was up 18.8% from a year ago.  By contrast, overall construction spending was down 13% from a year ago, to the lowest level in six years.

And even that rise in public spending conceals the fact that states, counties, and municipalities have all cut their transportation construction budgets drastically.

In absolute terms, overall public construction rose by $8.3 billion in November 2009 from November a year ago.  All of that (more than all of that) was accounted for by highways, streets, and other public transportation construction projects, which rose by $9.2 billion.

So, on top of tens of thousands of laid-off workers back on the job, Federal stimulus spending is reducing that drastic shortfall in other public transportation spending, making it possible for tens of thousands of workers to retain their jobs and never even hit the unemployment rolls.

Indeed, DOT-administered stimulus spending is the only thing propping up the transportation construction industry.

I dont' know about the AP, but where I come from, we call that helping.

Ray LaHood is Secretary of Transportation