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By Willoughby Mariano July 25, 2011

FTA says Atlanta streetcar to create thousands of jobs

The familiar clang of the Atlanta Streetcar Project sprang the Truth-O-Meter to action.

Leaders fought hard for funds to build the line, which is slated to open in 2013. It will ferry passengers from Centennial Olympic Park to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, bringing new jobs and businesses to struggling downtown neighborhoods, they said.

The $72 million project scored a crucial $47.6 million federal grant in October, but Republicans in Congress threatened to take the money back.

Now, streetcar fans can breathe a sigh of relief. A Federal Transit Administration press release announced July 13 that the money’s finally ready, and construction can begin.  

The press release trumpeted reasons why the streetcar is good for Atlanta, including this one:

"[T]he project is expected to create an estimated 930 jobs during construction and more than 5,600 jobs over the next 20 years."

Wait a second. Didn’t the Truth-O-Meter debunk a similar streetcar job creation claim in March?

Indeed, Democrat U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who represents the district where the streetcar will be built, said in a newsletter to constituents that building and running the streetcar is projected to create 1,399 jobs -- 460 to run it, and 939 to build it.

The newsletter cited figures in the grant proposal that won the streetcar more than $47 million in federal money.

Experts and civil servants came up with the numbers and vetted them, so Lewis’ staff thought they were safe to use.

They weren’t.  We ruled Lewis’ claim False. Those jobs weren’t actual positions. They were "job years."

"Job years" means one job lasting for one year. So if a single position lasts five years, it counts as five "job years."

But Lewis’ newsletter described the "job years" as "jobs," which would mislead typical readers. People think of "jobs" as actual positions, so constituents would think the streetcar would create more jobs than experts actually estimated.   

Since the FTA’s recent press release uses the same numbers, its statement has similar problems.  

The FTA said its 5,600 jobs figure includes the 930 construction jobs, plus those needed to run the streetcar and positions created when new residences and businesses pop up along the route. The agency, like Lewis, got its numbers from Atlanta’s grant application.

(The FTA’s 930 construction jobs count is very close to the 939 the grant application used, so we won’t count this difference against the FTA.)

The FTA’s press release portrays the construction jobs estimate accurately. It will take about one year to build the streetcar, so for this phase of the project, one job year does equal one actual job.

But that doesn’t mean 930 people are projected to build the streetcar line, and the jobs aren’t all for locals.
This is the construction phase’s "total employment" figure, which means the number of people who would be employed for construction, plus two other types of jobs created by the project: those to make materials such as steel to construct the line, and those created when workers spend their earnings on a new stereo or a package of cheese puffs.

Planners expect to employ 467 workers for streetcar construction. The rest would be making steel, cheese puffs and the like -- often outside the Atlanta area.

Now let’s deal with the rest of the jobs cited in the FTA release. These are the posts planners think the project will create over the next 20 years: 460 needed to operate the streetcar, plus about 4,200 created when the line spurs economic growth.  

When PolitiFact Georgia researched Lewis’ statement, we were unable to come up with enough evidence to evaluate job estimates for when the streetcar brings new business to the neighborhood.

But we could evaluate the claim that 460 jobs are needed to operate the streetcar.

This number also represents "job years," not actual positions. It will actually take an estimated 23 positions to run the streetcar, lasting over 20 years. In other words, this jobs figure is 20 times too high.

How do we rule on the FTA?

As we wrote earlier, a typical person thinks of "jobs" as actual positions, not "job years." And while experts may understand that the FTA’s jobs figures do not represent actual jobs, your average citizen would not.  

In fact, it will take an estimated 467 jobs to construct the line, plus 23 jobs that last 20 years or longer to run the streetcar. Experts think the remaining 4,600 jobs will be for those who produce materials needed to build the line or products workers purchase with their earnings, as well as employees of new businesses the streetcar brings to surrounding neighborhoods.

This means that when the Federal Transit Administration announced the streetcar project would "create an estimated 930 jobs during construction," totaling more than 5,600 over the next 20 years, it gave a misleadingly high impression of the actual positions needed to construct and run it.

If public officials keep exaggerating the number of jobs created by this project, PoiltiFact Georgia will keep turning up the heat.

Pants on Fire.

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FTA says Atlanta streetcar to create thousands of jobs

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