Speaking of the Recovery Act, money that went directly to the states has to be accounted for. Zandi cites the unprecedented disclosure mandates as a major reason the spending has been slower than many would have liked.
All 50 states have started the reporting process to the federal government, and many are releasing data already, even though the reports are preliminary. (They are expected to be finalized by 31st.)
There are a few things to keep in mind with this data. First off, these reports are only for money given directly to the states. They do notinclude money to cities, towns, tribes, as well as federal agencies doling out funds across the country.
The impact of tax cuts, unemployment benefits and Medicaid payments are not included either. Even with those caveats, the numbers provide substantial insight into what's going on.
In general, the lessons learned about jobs "saved or created" is that a majority of the numbers you see involve the "saved" part. The money has plugged budgets and staved off serious layoffs, especially in education.
Perhaps most important when viewing the overall employment numbers from these reports, it's easy to see that the private sector isn't hiring, which validates the comments from Zandi, Swonk and Bethune.
Here are some examples of what states are saying.
The number given in California by the state's Recovery Task Force: 100,000 jobs. The state has spent more than $5 billion of the $12.7 billion it was awarded in the Recovery Act. Because of its size, California shows the complexity of the process: The state submitted 747 separate preliminary reports, and there were 5,000 reports from what the state calls a "sub-recipient" category.
Michigan is less complicated but no less severe. It has the highest unemployment of any state in the country. According to the state, approximately, 19,500 jobs have been saved or created thus far — on 620-million in spending. To further the point about it being more "saved" than "created", almost 75-percent of the jobs were in education.
With only $370 million out the door, the numbers are smaller in New Mexico. Governor Bill Richardson's office estimates that 4,000 full-time jobs were created. The state says, under a more liberal metric — including part-time hires and not just total hours worked — the number is double. To give perspective on what the overall budget reprieve can look like, the federal help with Medicaid has saved 133-million in the state budget.
"State and local governments are losing payroll but would be slashing it without stimulus," says Zandi.
The hope is that when the stimulus money runs through the system, the economy can start to, once again, fund itself and fund new jobs. But the transition to the "new normal" will be painful and long, according to Swonk.
"The kind of jobs that we're generating now don't match the skills that people have," she says. "Jobs that exist today didn't exist 20 years ago. My own work doesn't have the unemployment rate dropping back below 6-percent until 2014."
CNBC's Molly Mazilu contributed to this report.Let us know your thoughts:firstname.lastname@example.org)