Democrats are aggressively pushing back against a recent Associated Press investigation that questions the impact of transportation stimulus dollars on national unemployment.
The AP concluded in a story published Monday that "a surge in spending on roads and bridges has had no effect on local unemployment and only barely helped the beleaguered construction industry."
But the Department of Transportation said this afternoon that report was "missing the point," in part because it was unfairly comparing "apples to oranges."
Additionally, the top Democrats on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and its highways subcommittee lambasted the AP for misleading readers as to the point of transportation stimulus dollars in the first place.
At issue for Democrats seems to be the APs metrics. According to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who outlined his dissatisfaction in a recent blog post, the AP story refers to "the 'construction industry' when transportation stimulus spending is only designed to help the transportation construction industry."
"Just last week, the Census Bureau reported that highway and street construction spending in November was 5.7% higher than it was in November a year ago, and other public transportation construction spending was up 18.8% from a year ago," he continued. "By contrast, overall construction spending was down 13% from a year ago, to the lowest level in six years."
Both Transportation Committee Chairman James Oberstarr (D-Minn) and Highways subcommittee Chairman Pete DeFazio (D-Ore.) felt similarly, noting in a statement this afternoon that "Transportation investments make up only 6 percent of the overall Recovery package, and are not enough by themselves to overcome the high unemployment in the private sector."
"However, to dismiss them as having no effect at all is like saying it is a waste of time to feed a homeless family because that one act does not cure poverty," they said.
But that's a far different conclusion than the AP reached, which focused its report more on jobs than spending figures.
The reporters stressed "there was nearly no connection between transportation stimulus money and the number of construction workers hired or fired since Congress passed the recovery program. "The effect was so small, one economist compared it to trying to move the Empire State Building by pushing against it," they wrote.
Still, the DOT stressed in its blog post that spent money translated to tens of thousands of saved jobs -- which meant those employees "never even hit unemployment rolls" and thus went uncounted by the AP.
"Indeed, DOT-administered stimulus spending is the only thing propping up the transportation construction industry," LaHood said. "I dont' know about the AP, but where I come from, we call that helping."