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Tracking the Stimulus, Where It Counts

Our StimCities Project

The economic stimulus package may be a political football in Washington, but its success or failure depends on what happens in cities and towns across the country. As part of our effort to track the stimulus from bill to building, ProPublica is watching eight locales for a feature called StimCities.

Once a month, we’ll take each city’s economic temperature, looking at unemployment, building permits and food bank demand. We’re also comparing the ratio of jobs wanted to jobs offered on Craigslist, and we’re informally surveying five local residents about the health of the economy.

A city’s experience is more than a list of statistics. So over the year, we’ll be reporting on the ground to talk to residents, look at stimulus projects and see if the recovery is working. We’ve already filed reports from Elkhart, Ind. and St. Cloud, Minn. Our stimulus-watching partners WNYC and The Takeaway also have reported from Charlotte, N.C.

So far, the reporting suggests a mixture of pain and resilience. In St. Cloud, Jules Mische measures the success of her 4-year-old bistro not in terms of profit—the restaurant has yet to break even—but in terms of endurance. "The fact that we’re still open speaks volumes," she says.

A few blocks away, Pete Rengel, who bought Rengel Printing Company from his father in 2004, just got a small business loan from the stimulus package that will guarantee his bank payments should he be unable to make payroll. But Rengel still doesn’t think St. Cloud has seen "the worst of the worst."

In Las Vegas, Ralph Marano, the director of operations at the Silver Nugget Casino, says fewer people now come through the casino’s doors, and they spend less money when they do. Darren Lee, an Elvis impersonator, and Allison LaBine, his wife and manager, have seen their wedding gigs go from 25 a month to just three or four. The couple are now struggling to refinance their mortgage.

For the most part, our 40 survey participants give the economy a middling grade. We’ll be checking in monthly to see how that changes.

Check out our new StimCities feature.

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