Uncommon Sense

politics and society are, unfortunately, much the same thing

Billion$ spent to fix failing schools; fail

original article: Obama administration spent billions to fix failing schools, and it didn’t work
January 19, 2017 by Emma Brown

One of the Obama administration’s signature efforts in education, which pumped billions of federal dollars into overhauling the nation’s worst schools, failed to produce meaningful results, according to a federal analysis.

Test scores, graduation rates and college enrollment were no different in schools that received money through the School Improvement Grants program — the largest federal investment ever targeted to failing schools — than in schools that did not.

The Education Department published the findings on the website of its research division on Wednesday, hours before President Obama’s political appointees walked out the door.

“We’re talking about millions of kids who are assigned to these failing schools, and we just spent several billion dollars promising them things were going to get better,” said Andy Smarick, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who has long been skeptical that the Obama administration’s strategy would work. “Think of what all that money could have been spent on instead.”

The School Improvement Grants program has been around since the administration of President George W. Bush, but it received an enormous boost under Obama. The administration funneled $7 billion into the program between 2010 and 2015 — far exceeding the $4 billion it spent on Race to the Top grants.

The money went to states to distribute to their poorest-performing schools — those with exceedingly low graduation rates, or poor math and reading test scores, or both. Individual schools could receive up to $2 million per year for three years, on the condition that they adopt one of the Obama administration’s four preferred measures: replacing the principal and at least half the teachers, converting into a charter school, closing altogether, or undergoing a “transformation,” including hiring a new principal and adopting new instructional strategies, new teacher evaluations and a longer school day.

The Education Department did not track how the money was spent, other than to note which of the four strategies schools chose.

Arne Duncan, Obama’s education secretary from 2009 to 2016, said his aim was to turn around 1,000 schools every year for five years. “We could really move the needle, lift the bottom and change the lives of tens of millions of underserved children,” Duncan said in 2009.

Duncan often said that the administration’s school-improvement efforts did not get the attention they deserved, overshadowed by more-controversial efforts to encourage states to adopt new standards and teacher evaluations tied to tests.

The school turnaround effort, he told The Washington Post days before he left office in 2016, was arguably the administration’s “biggest bet.”

He and other administration officials sought to highlight individual schools that made dramatic improvements after receiving the money. But the new study released this week shows that, as a large-scale effort, School Improvement Grants failed.

Just a tiny fraction of schools chose the most dramatic measures, according to the new study. Three percent became charter schools, and 1 percent closed. Half the schools chose transformation, arguably the least intrusive option available to them.

“This outcome reminds us that turning around our lowest-performing schools is some of the hardest, most complex work in education and that we don’t yet have solid evidence on effective, replicable, comprehensive school improvement strategies,” said Dorie Nolt, an Education Department spokeswoman.

Nolt emphasized that the study focused on schools that received School Improvement Grants money between 2010 and 2013. The administration awarded a total of $3.5 billion to those schools, most of it stimulus funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. “Since then,” she said, “the program has evolved toward greater flexibility in the selection of school improvement models and the use of evidence-based interventions.”

“Here in Massachusetts, it actually took several years to see real improvement in some areas,” Duncan said at the time. “Scores were flat or even down in some subjects and grades for a while. Many people questioned whether the state should hit the brakes on change. But you had the courage to stick with it, and the results are clear to all.”

Smarick said he had never seen such a huge investment produce zero results.

That could end up being a gift, he said, from Duncan to Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for education secretary and is a prominent proponent of taxpayer-supported vouchers for private and religious schools.

Results from the School Improvement Grants have shored up previous research showing that pouring money into dysfunctional schools and systems does not work, Smarick said: “I can imagine Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump saying this is exactly why kids need school choice.”

bailout, bureaucracy, crisis, education, funding, government, nanny state, politics, public policy, reform, spending, study, unintended consequences

Filed under: bailout, bureaucracy, crisis, education, funding, government, nanny state, politics, public policy, reform, spending, study, unintended consequences

This is how cronyism works

original article: New York’s Taxi King Is Going Down
October 26, 2015 by Jared Meyer

People don’t deserve to be millionaires because they can get government to let them pick people’s pockets.

Evgeny “Gene” Freidman is no fan of Uber. The increasing popularity of this vehicle-for-hire (or ridesharing) company has lost him millions of dollars. He has even asked New York City taxpayers for a bailout. As difficult as bailing out the big banks was to swallow, bailing out a taxi mogul—who at one point owned more than 1,000 New York City taxi medallions—is an even harder sell. A bailout would be especially outrageous considering that Freidman and his financial backers are actively working to make consumers pay more for fewer options.

Freidman reluctantly took over his father’s modest yellow taxi business as a young man. He brought his experience in Russian finance to the industry, and started to accumulate increasing numbers of taxi medallions using highly leveraged financing. Freidman expanded a company with just a few taxis into a conglomeration of three- to five-car mini-fleets.

As Freidman’s taxi empire grew, he expanded into other cities, including New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Chicago. He gained control of hundreds more medallions that are also now in financial trouble. His willingness to bid on practically any medallion that came up for sale helped drive a rapid increase in medallion prices across the country.

Subprime Taxi Medallions

This model can work when times are good but, as the housing crisis showed, it has its dangers. It works until another technology emerges, consumers move on, and funding dries up.

This is where Uber comes in. Competition from Uber has left investors wondering how much the company will grow and what further effects its growth will have on taxis’ market share. While yellow taxi medallions were selling for $1.32 million as recently as May 2013, now they may be worth as little as $650,000.

This drastic drop in price has made the banks and credit unions that fund Freidman’s vast enterprise nervous. For example, his companies still owe around $750,000 for each medallion financed by Citibank. Without new loans to meet existing obligations and expand his fleet, Freidman’s companies became insolvent. This is why he sought the bailout and wants the government to support the medallion market by offering taxpayer-guaranteed loans.

Adding to this financing crunch, the lease rates Freidman now can charge taxi drivers who rent his cars have declined. Many taxi drivers switched to Uber, which offersincreased earning potential, flexible work schedules, and improved driver safety. Competition led Freidman to complain that he is no longer able to charge the city’s legal maximum lease rate. This is promising news for drivers, but problematic for Freidman’s income.

There’s Not Much Argument for a Monopoly

Medallions commanded such astronomical prices in New York because yellow taxis had, and still do have, a monopoly on street hails in Manhattan south of the northern boundary of Central Park. Ubers come rapidly, but they are not street hails, because people summon them beforehand with a smartphone. In cities across the country that also use a medallion system, the same reasoning applies. Government restricts the supply of taxis below the level of demand, and medallion owners reap the profits—all at the expense of consumers.

It is not just Freidman’s companies that are in trouble. The banks and credit unions that funded him and other medallion owners are also worried. Just four credit unions hold security interests in over 5,300 medallions, for which they are on the hook for about $2.5 billion. In the face of greater potential losses, these companies have resorted to calling people who work in policy (myself included) to try and convince researchers that Uber is illegal and needs to be banned.

The credit union argument progresses as follows:

  1. Yellow taxi medallion owners were granted a monopoly on street hails.
  2. For-hire vehicles are only allowed to offer pre-arranged rides.
  3. Uber uses street hails, not pre-arranged rides, to connect riders with its driver partners.
  4. Therefore, Uber is illegally using street hails, and this infringes on yellow taxi medallion owners’ government-granted monopoly.

If the third premise is true, this argument could hold some rule-of-law water. It is not.

The law governing New York City’s street hails date back to the Haas Act of 1937. This law restricted the number of New York yellow taxi medallions to 16,900, which was lowered and now stands at 13,437—even though the city’s population has grown byover 20 percent since 1940.

The Haas Act also set the stage for other common carrier regulations that apply to the taxi industry. These regulations place substantial limits and requirements on taxi owners and drivers in exchange for their monopoly privileges. For example, the city’s Transportation and Limousine Commission sets fare prices, and fares cannot change with increased demand for rides. This is one of the main reasons it is so difficult to hail a taxi in the rain or at the beginning of rush hour.

Updating regulations takes time, but New York City taxis were finally granted the ability to accept ride requests from smartphones (e-hails) early this year. Once taxis were allowed to accept e-hails, something they needed to compete with new technologies, four credit unions argued that the technology was now off-limits for Uber—the company that had popularized e-hails. They sued New York City for infringing upon medallion holders’ monopoly privileges.

This makes no sense. How can a decades-old law covering street hails be construed to cover ride requests made through smartphones? Anyone who has tried to hail a taxi on the side of the road, and then used Uber, knows that the two experiences are vastly different. Simply put, holding your hand up is not the same as pressing a button on your phone.

How to Save Taxis Without Squeezing People

The path forward is not to ban ridesharing or bail medallion owners out. It is to make taxis more like Ubers. This takes more than simply allowing taxis to accept e-hails. Rather, the only ways to save taxis are greater flexibility in pricing and service and increased competition.

As Uber’s rise has made obvious, when the crucial aspect of competition is missing from markets, established companies do not have to worry about improving their services to attract and keep customers. Regulations need to be continually modified and updated in light of new technology.  There is no reason to require New York taxis to have expensive (and annoying) Taxi TVs. Pointless mandates such as this only increase the cost of taxi rides.

Even with a relaxed regulatory framework that embraces ridesharing and competition, taxis will still have an advantage. No one is talking about taking away New York City’s yellow taxi monopoly on street hails. Applying antiquated laws and regulations to new technology is what laid the groundwork for the rise of Uber and other ridesharing services in the first place.

Everyone Shouldn’t Pay for Some People’s Bad Bets

Credit unions oppose allowing Uber to grow because they want to protect their investments. The Queens County Supreme Court ruled against the credit unions last month. The court found that the credit unions did not have a cause of action against the city and its Transportation and Limousine Commission. This was a major win for Uber and consumers, but a death-knell for Freidman’s business and its financers.

The whole yellow taxi financing model is crashing, along with medallion prices. After the ruling, Montauk Credit Union, one of the plaintiffs, was seized by the New York State Department of Financial Services because of “unsafe and unsound conditions.” The day that New York City’s proposed cap on Uber’s growth was defeated, 22 of Freidman’s mini-fleet companies filed for bankruptcy.

Even if medallion holders such as Freidman lost a lot of money, it does not follow that the public should subsidize their losses. The returns from a yellow taxi medallion in cities such as Philadelphia, Chicago, or New York far outpaced the stock market or gold for many years. The values of these medallions about doubled in each city from 2009 to 2013.

Investments carry risk, as Freidman knows from his background in finance. He made a poor calculation that the Manhattan yellow taxi street hail monopoly would continue to provide him enough future cash flow to satisfy bankers, who would loan him more money to expand his fleet. Freidman and his investors have no claim to a taxpayer-funded bailout to cover their poor business decisions. Perhaps they should consider investing in Uber instead.

bailout, corruption, cronyism, economics, funding, government, greed, hypocrisy, law, nanny state, public policy, regulation, taxes

Filed under: bailout, corruption, cronyism, economics, funding, government, greed, hypocrisy, law, nanny state, public policy, regulation, taxes

We must like oppression

Most people agree that money effectively is power. This doesn’t necessarily mean power over others; it could just as easily mean self empowerment – freedom. By this reasoning we can say wealth is freedom, and few would disagree with this premise.

This idea that wealth is freedom is one reason behind the progressive Occupy movement. In the leftwing mindset wealth is not created, it merely exists. And there is a vast but limited quantity of wealth in the world. In this mindset only so much wealth can be distributed, so it should be distributed as equitably as possible. After all, wealth is freedom, and fairness demands we all be equally free.

In the progressive mindset a concentration of wealth in the hands of only a few is tantamount to oppression of the rest of us. The prime imperative of fairness requires this inequitable distribution of wealth to be rectified. So far, this philosophy is at least consistent, making sense with itself even if not with reality. But this is where the philosophy begins to turn on itself. What a leftwing mindset neglects is that if money is power, power is also power.

The power to control other people is not liberty. It may be a “freedom” of the powerful to control others, but to be controlled is not “freedom” except the freedom from the burden of making one’s own decisions. Most of us would acknowledge that, in order for liberty to exist, there must be limits on our individual freedom so that we do not infringe upon the liberty of others. That means government is necessary for liberty to exist.

No one is “anti-government”. Not even anarchists. Anarchists, for what ever reasons, seem to be easily swayed from a supposedly total non-government ideal to a total government ideal. This devotion to absolute freedom is no devotion at all, but merely an excuse for some other agenda, often one they are not even aware of because anarchists seldom bother to think through that far. Even in a world of no government, laws evolve. Clans or gangs form, and a pecking order results. If there is a leader, there is someone telling others what to do. That is not anarchy. True anarchy does not exist among the human species for very long – if at all.

Limited government is not anarchy either, and no one supporting limited government is calling for the dismissal of government. In fact, those favoring limited government do so because they believe too much government results in tyranny. And they’re right. Just as there is such a thing as too little government, so there is such a thing as too much government. That means in order for liberty to exist, there must be limits on what government can do.

But the language used in modern politics doesn’t match the real life situation. Limited government advocates are called names like anti-government. One cannot support limited government (which, by definition, is supporting the existence of government) and be anti-government at the same time. Those making the accusation of “anti-government” pretend to support liberty. This is a remarkable contradiction. Accusing someone else of being anti-government so as to support more government, in the name of freedom.

Power is power. And as the saying goes, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. And how does government accomplish any of the things it does? By exercising power over others. Government is the practice of telling other people what they can and can’t do. When government passes a regulation or law telling you what you can or can’t do, that is a choice taken away from you. Sometimes this is necessary, other times we are told it is necessary when it is really not. Diminishing your choices can be considered diminishing your freedom. That can be necessary when your decisions affect others, but even then laws should require a high standard of justification. Today it seems a majority of our fellow citizens gladly and quietly comply with anything government wishes to do.

In order to do its work, government must also be funded. How does government fund itself? By taxation. What is taxation? Taxation is the confiscation of wealth.

Now, as mentioned before, wealth is freedom. Does this mean taxation is the confiscation of freedom? Yes it does. Money you earned that was taken from you is wealth you no longer have. Confiscating money is also confiscating opportunity. Those advocating more government and higher taxes “on the rich” have no idea they are promoting greater confiscation of freedom from us all. If raising taxes or cutting taxes for “the rich” applied only to “the rich” we might be able to make a different argument. But “the rich” is a political ploy that easily shuts down most people’s capacity to think for themselves, as it is designed to do. The term “the rich” can garner instant emotional support for anything hiding behind the propaganda, without question.

Those advocating higher taxes or more regulation typically suggest that without such government intervention businesses would cause tremendous harm because they are greedy and corrupt. Because government doesn’t have a reputation for being greedy or corrupt, and it never causes any harm, right? We are to believe government does only good things when trying to act on our behalf.

You may like the idea of an Obamaphone provided to other people free by the government, but you may not like actually having one. If you’ve seen one of these free government phones you realize it’s crap. If you spent your own money on a phone you probably would never purchase one like the Obamaphone. You would want something better. The idea that the government is helping us by giving us crap is backwards. We have no idea of the opportunity cost involved in providing poor people with a free sub par phone.

If you’ve ever seen government housing you would probably have the same reaction as you would to the Obamaphone. At first you may feel like a good person for supporting giving housing to the poor, but you would be unlikely to ever purchase similar housing for yourself with your own money. Government programs offer typically sub par services and products to the people.

But in the name of fairness American society sprints leftward toward a progressive utopia, with ever increasing taxes so government can provide us with more sub par crap. Those relying on food assistance, government housing, social security, government education, etc., the many social assistance programs, know very well how trapped people can become by being so dependent on government crap. And we want more sub par handouts, the latest being health care.

We are paying, by force of law, for inadequate government hand outs and some how we consider this a great thing. The idea of allowing people to keep their own wealth is considered dangerous in our society, which contradicts our attitude of letting government have ever increasing power. If concentrated wealth in the hands of a few is a bad thing, why is concentrating both wealth and power in the hands of government such a good thing? We have to get government approval to do so many things in life. We don’t even know how many taxes we pay. Even the IRS can’t keep up with all the tax rules and regulations Congress has passed into law.

The United States government is so massive, and confiscates so much wealth in the form of taxes (not just income taxes) we have no clue how much liberty has been taken away from us (just in the form of money, not to mention in regulations). Liberty, not hand outs, is what makes it possible for people to raise themselves out of poverty. We need not presume poverty is a life long affliction. So one might wonder if liberty or prosperity are really the goal here; perhaps fairness trumps these things, in which case liberty and prosperity are forfeited so society can be made more economically equal.

Progressives tell us they support freedom. And they do, as long as we’re talking about pleasure. The political left seems to favor almost moral anarchy concerning anything related to having fun. But they also want every other aspect of life regulated. While screaming for the freedom to have sex with who ever you want or to put what ever substances you want into your body, on the other hand they want government to regulate or tax your right to make a living, to protect yourself, to travel, to practice religion, what health care you’re entitled to, what food or drink you can consume, and more. We’re even seeing increased regulation of what we are allowed to think and speak. And all this under the guise of fairness.

I don’t call this trend fairness. I call it oppression. For generations now conservatives have been ridiculed as a people who want to control other people’s lives. And there is some truth to that, since one application of a “conservative” mindset holds that regulating oneself is the best form of regulation – if we would bother to do it. But today it is progressives who devote themselves to controlling people. While calling for freedom they are the very champions of oppression, through the mighty hand of government. Progressives call paying taxes an act of patriotism, when in fact it is the confiscation of freedom. They call wanting less regulation of life dangerous and greedy. Somehow how wanting to keep more of your own money is greed, but wanting to take more of your money from you is not greed. Punishing the rich while exempting our rich government and rich politicians and treating them as heros does not match the supposed desire for fairness. Treating success as evil and something that needs to be changed is not a desire for freedom. And what is the recommended agent of change? It is government intervention, which inevitably decreases freedom. Apparently, our society likes oppression, because we demand more of it every day. But let us not call it oppression. It sounds much better if we call it fairness or equality or even social justice.

Get your “Concentrated Power” swag here – wear and share uncommon sense. This message states the following:

Money, effectively, is power. If concentrating wealth in the hands of a few is such a bad thing why is concentrating power in the hands of even fewer such a good thing?

Mugs, stickers, shirts, stationary, and more. Help spread some sense back into the world.

Filed under: bailout, culture, economy, elitism, entitlements, freedom, funding, government, greed, hypocrisy, ideology, left wing, opinion, philosophy, public policy, regulation, socialism, unintended consequences

Progressivism vs Reality – national debt is a myth?

Rep. Phil Hare Explains that the $13.3 Trillion Debt is a Myth

Is this ideology or idiocy?

“Everyday that I am here is going to be spent, debunking the MYTH, that this country’s in debt and we just can’t spend. Well you can spend.”-Rep. Phil Hare, D-IL

Democrats, bailout, budget, economy, elitism, funding, government, ideology, left wing, liberalism, nanny state, philosophy, politics, public policy, recession, socialism, spending, video

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Congress cutting food stamps because Mrs. Obama says so?

Dems may use food-stamp money to pay for Michelle Obama’s nutrition initiative
August 14, 2010 by Russell Berman

Democrats who reluctantly slashed a food-stamp program to fund a state-aid bill may have to do so again to pay for a top priority of first lady Michelle Obama.

The House will soon consider an $8 billion child-nutrition bill that’s at the center of the first lady’s “Let’s Move” initiative. Before leaving for the summer recess, the Senate passed a smaller version of the legislation that is paid for by trimming the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as the food-stamp program.

Democrats, bailout, bureaucracy, congress, crisis, economy, education, entitlements, funding, government, nanny state, politics, public policy, recession, reform, sacrifice, socialism, spending, tragedy, unintended consequences, welfare

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Is GOP destroying S.S., or is Obama destroying America?

Obama claims GOP trying to destroy Social Security
August 14, 2010 by ERICA WERNER

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Barack Obama used the anniversary of Social Security to trumpet Democrats’ support for the popular program and accuse Republicans of trying to destroy it.
Seventy-five years after President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Social Security into law, Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address Saturday: “We have an obligation to keep that promise, to safeguard Social Security for our seniors, people with disabilities and all Americans—today, tomorrow and forever.”

Some Republican leaders in Congress are “pushing to make privatizing Social Security a key part of their legislative agenda if they win a majority in Congress this fall,” Obama said.

He contended that such privatization was “an ill-conceived idea that would add trillions of dollars to our budget deficit while tying your benefits to the whims of Wall Street traders and the ups and downs of the stock market.”

Most Republicans, in fact, are wary of touching that idea, because Social Security is virtually sacrosanct to voters, particularly seniors.

Obama’s Stimulus Plan: Failing by Its Own Measure
July 14, 2009 by STEPHEN GANDEL

Still think big government knows best? Check history first.
Forget accuracy or the 5 million lost jobs, Obama wants the credit
AP shows economic stimulus spending was useless
Government’s Good intentions harm the people again
Obama doesn’t get it, urges new housing bubble
Biggest Spender in History complains of too much debt
If Obama fails, the country succeeds

Democrats, Republicans, bailout, economy, entitlements, funding, government, ideology, left wing, liberalism, marxism, nanny state, pandering, philosophy, politics, propaganda, public policy, social security, spending

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Housing bailout – epic fail

Borrowers exit troubled Obama mortgage program
June 21, 2010 by ALAN ZIBEL

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Obama administration’s flagship effort to help people in danger of losing their homes is falling flat.
More than a third of the 1.24 million borrowers who have enrolled in the $75 billion mortgage modification program have dropped out. That exceeds the number of people who have managed to have their loan payments reduced to help them keep their homes.

Last month alone,155,000 borrowers left the program—bringing the total to 436,000 who have dropped out since it began in March 2009.

About 340,000 homeowners have received permanent loan modifications and are making payments on time.

Administration officials say the housing market is significantly better than when President Barack Obama entered office. They say those who were rejected from the program will get help in other ways.

But analysts expect the majority will still wind up in foreclosure and that could slow the broader economic recovery.

bailout, bureaucracy, crisis, economy, funding, government, politics, public policy, recession, spending, unintended consequences

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The welfare state’s death spiral

The welfare state’s death spiral
May 10, 2010 by Robert J. Samuelson

What we’re seeing in Greece is the death spiral of the welfare state. This isn’t Greece’s problem alone, and that’s why its crisis has rattled global stock markets and threatens economic recovery. Virtually every advanced nation, including the United States, faces the same prospect. Aging populations have been promised huge health and retirement benefits, which countries haven’t fully covered with taxes. The reckoning has arrived in Greece, but it awaits most wealthy societies.

Americans dislike the term “welfare state” and substitute the bland word “entitlements.” Vocabulary doesn’t alter the reality. Countries cannot overspend and overborrow forever. By delaying hard decisions about spending and taxes, governments maneuver themselves into a cul-de-sac.

bailout, budget, bureaucracy, crisis, economics, economy, entitlements, government, ideology, left wing, liberalism, marxism, nanny state, philosophy, political correctness, politics, public policy, recession, social security, socialism, spending, taxes

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Bailout cop: TARP’s not working

Bailout cop: TARP’s not working
January 31, 2010 by David Ellis

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — The watchdog charged with monitoring the government’s $700 billion bailout unleashed one of his harshest criticisms of the program to date, questioning its overall effectiveness.

In his latest quarterly report to Congress, special inspector general Neil Barofsky said that the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, has failed to boost bank lending as well as halt the spread of foreclosures — two key aims of the sprawling program.

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Forget accuracy or the 5 million lost jobs, Obama wants the credit

White House says stimulus has saved two million jobs
January 13, 2010 by Alister Bull

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama’s emergency spending measures last year saved up to 2 million U.S. jobs, the White House said on Wednesday, but it warned that the outlook for the economy remained uncertain.

Obama, anxious to reduce double-digit U.S. unemployment which has dented his popularity, has already called for additional government measures to boost jobs on top of the $787 billion stimulus package he signed in February 2009.

Christina Romer, head of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, said she expects positive job creation by the spring, but stressed that there was definitely a need for additional “targeted action” to aid employment.

The White House, using two different approaches to figure out the impact of the stimulus package, estimates that U.S. employment had been raised by between 1-1/2 and 2 million jobs by the end of 2009 as a result of the stimulus measures.

Romer said she thinks the stimulus measures will have saved up to 3.5 million jobs by year’s end.

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