If the stimulus measure is keeping construction workers employed, the months just past represented a new high point--depending on how you add it all up.

The White House estimates that the 2009 stimulus act's spending on "public investment," which includes most of the measure's construction outlays, rose sharply in the three months ended Sept. 30, hitting a new quarterly high of $33 billion.

In its latest quarterly American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), update, released on Nov. 18, the White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) estimates that the statute's public-investment spending created or preserved more than a million jobs through September.

CEA says stimulus act public-investment outlays rose 38%, to $119.3 billion, in the third quarter, the highest quarterly gain in that category since the legislation was enacted in Feb. 2009 (see table below).

The $119.3-billion cumulative total for public investment includes $25.9 billion for clean energy, $15.3 billion for transportation infrastructure construction, $11.3 billion for buildings construction and $10.7 billion for environmental cleanup and preservation.

In another closely watched number, CEA estimates that jobs preserved or created by ARRA public investment totaled 1.06 million as of Sept. 30, up 29% from June 30.

The Sept. 30 jobs total includes 224,500 positions in clean energy (up 17.5% from June 30) 132,700 jobs in transportation infrastructure (up 30%), 100,500 in buildings (up 26.1%) and 104,800 for environmental (up 32%).

Puzzling Over Oddities

There are some apparent oddities in those categories, however. CEA notes that high-speed rail funds are counted under clean energy--not transportation--and money for constructing community health centers falls under "health and health information technology," not buildings.

ARRA had a total of $318 billion in spending and tax breaks related to public investment. Of that, $119 billion had been spent as of Sept. 30 and another $117 billion was obligated to projects but not yet spent.

It is unclear whether the third quarter represents the peak for ARRA's public investment outlays, but it is clear that nearly all of the stimulus construction money is spoken for.

CEA says less than $20 billion of the $318 billion for public investment has yet to be obligated and most of that $20 billion has been awarded.

Looking more broadly, the Congressional Budget Office's original estimate of ARRA's total cost was $787 billion. CBO updated that to $814 billion early this year.

Besides the $318 billion on public investment, other components of the stimulus measure include tax cuts for individuals, alternative-minimum-tax changes, direct fiscal relief to states, business tax breaks and "aid to directly impacted individuals," which would include unemployment benefits.

Looking at ARRA's overall jobs impact so far, CEA estimates the law preserved or created between 2.67 million and 3.67 million jobs as of Sept. 30. That includes the 1.06 million from its public investment spending.

CEA also lists three private economic forecasts, which show jobs numbers in a lower range, of 2.12 million to 2.52 million.

CBO's overall ARRA jobs estimates range from 1.4 million to 3.7 million.

Quarterly ARRA public-investment outlays
(in billions of dollars)
Outlays in quarter Cumulative totals
Q1 2009
Q2 2009
Q3 2009
Q4 2009
Q1 2010
Q2 2010
Q3 2010
Source: Council of Economic Advisers Nov. 18 quarterly ARRA report. Reflects CEA analysis of: OMB estimates, agencies' reports to OMB, Treasury Dept. Office of Tax Analysis simulations of FY2011 mid-session review.