Patchwork Nation project director Dante Chinni answers your questions about how funds from President Barack Obama's economic stimulus package are making their way across the country and about the Patchwork Nation reporting project itself.
Isn't measuring the stimulus spending per capita misleading?
Bess Naujoks of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, asks:
In road construction, dollars per capita is meaningless. Every mile of road is the same, no matter the surrounding population. There is little local hiring, so local unemployment is of little value. You're coming close to misleading with statistics!
Dante Chinni answers:
understand and appreciate your concerns. As I mentioned in the NewsHour
segment, I realize that "per capita expenditures" as a measurement
can be tricky because one big grant in a small town can look enormous. But, as
I also mentioned, our rural, agricultural Tractor Country communities got more
money in total (not just per capita) than all our other community types save
two -- the growing, diversifying Boom Towns, and the small-town Service Worker
More to the
point though, I would argue that "dollars per capita" is really far
from meaningless. Is there really little local hiring? That depends. If
businesses in these counties don't get the job themselves, local firms often
get subcontract work. And if the contractors do come from far away they fill
hotel rooms, buy meals, shop and circulate outside dollars into local economies
with a big impact -- especially if they are small economies. The money works
its way around the town. I have seen this in many communities I visit where
there are big construction projects. And, no, those aren't long-term stimuli,
but neither are highway funds in general. That's the point of "shovel
biggest point though is the idea that "every mile of road is the
same." That's not exactly true, of course, for a variety of reasons. But
it goes to the point of needing to spend more in more densely populated places.
After all, a $7 million road in a town of 100 people has an enormous effect
even if a crew from out of town comes to do the work. Imagine, even in the
simplest terms, the lunch rush a big construction project may produce at a
local restaurant, then multiply that over several months. A $7 million road in
a city of 2
million people means less. The impact necessarily is more dispersed.
Country holds about 2 million people and is slated to get $2.2 billion in highway stimulus
money. The big city Industrial Metros hold about 54 million people and are
slated to get $214 million. Considering where the struggles are in the economy
right now, those numbers seem to miss the mark a bit.