Looking at this morning's terrible employment numbers, David Leonhardt of the New York Times begins to despair in a blog post titled "So Much for Momentum":
For more than a month now, you could have made a case that the recovery was gaining momentum. Stocks were generally rising. Retail sales over the Thanksgiving weekend were strong. Job gains had been accelerating.
But you can't make that case very well any more.
Yet the Congressional Budget Office, in its latest update on the Obama stimulus, reports that the program should be having its greatest effect right now (emphasis mine):
The effects of ARRA [the stimulus] on output peaked in the first half of2010 and are now diminishing, CBO estimates. The effects of ARRA on employment and unemployment are estimated to lag slightly behind the effects on output; they are expected to wane gradually beginning in the fourth quarter.
In other words, not only the level of the dots below is wrong, so is their pattern: as the stimulus's effect on employment is peaking, they should be going down, not leveling off.
In reality, I don't think that it's possible to identify the effects of the stimulus by looking at a graph of the jobs data -- or really any other way. But why not play the administration's own game? For instance, the chair of the president's Council of Economic Adviser, Austan Goolsbee, directly attributed the improvement in private sector employment over his presidency to the stimulus:
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