Ever since the U.S. economy imploded two years ago, some 8 million American jobs have vanished.
Among the legions of clobbered companies across the land is New Bedford Panoramex, a 49-year-old airport lighting manufacturer out of Los Angeles.
In the beginning months of the recession, owner Steven Ozuna was dreadfully positive that 15 of his 50 employees would soon be unemployed.
Then, just weeks after President Obama signed into law the historic stimulus bill in February of 2009, Mr. Ozuna got an unexpected phone call.
It was an official with the Federal Aviation Administration. He asked if Mr. Ozuna's company could take a $3 million stimulus-funded contract manufacturing and installing new runway lighting systems at about a dozen airports around the country. Given how the company typically takes in about $8 million a year, it was a huge shot in the arm.
"They said 'When can you start?'" Mr. Ozuna remembers, speaking by phone to Hispanic Business magazine. "I said, 'We can start yesterday.'"
All 15 jobs were saved and the highly skilled employees are still working -- for now.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 -- better known as the stimulus package -- has been a historic effort to save the economy from utter catastrophe. The $787 billion package is enormously far reaching and complex, but broadly speaking breaks down into two categories: Tax breaks, which constitute about a third of the total amount, and expenditures -- namely on transportation, schools, infrastructure, health care, housing and energy efficiency -- which make up the balance.
By April, roughly 40 percent of the money had been spent. It is slated to be 100 percent spent by 2012.
Nationwide, the stimulus package has saved or created nearly 2 million jobs, most economists agree. That's about a
quarter the amount of jobs that have disappeared in the past two years.
But the unemployment rate has been stuck for months at 9.7 percent. Among Hispanics, it has reached a troubling 12.4 percent -- double the rate at the start of the recession.
Has the stimulus been a success? The answer, like so many others in Washington D.C. these days, has become political.
Republicans say no. They often point to the Obama administration's assurances, before the stimulus passed, that the bill would prevent the U.S. unemployment rate from exceeding 8 percent, and would create 4 million jobs. On this, the administration was wrong.
"I am appalled at the dismal failure of the so-called 'stimulus' bill," said outgoing Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-Florida). "The legislation has created very few jobs, and the American people are left footing the bill for this wasteful and ill-conceived spending program."
Democrats, of course, disagree. They point to all the jobs saved, and say that without it, the nation's jobless rate would be as high as 11 percent right now.
"As a fiscal conservative, a blue-dog Democrat, I had a very difficult time voting for it," Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) told Hispanic Business magazine. "A year later I'm pretty excited about the fact that it has worked."
In many respects, the jury's still out. The last few weeks have been encouraging, but there is a long way to go.
In March, the economy added 162,000 jobs -- the third gain in five months and the largest jump since 2007. The service sector witnessed the largest expansion since 2006, and manufacturing grew for the eight straight month.
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