Coming to a Town Near You: Economic Blowback from the Shutdown

empty wallet
It's day two of the government shutdown, and there's no end in sight (although enough House Republicans have publicly defected that if Speaker Boehner allowed a clean bill to be voted on, we now know it would pass). Parks are still closed, museums are still shuttered, the NIH is still not enrolling new patients in its cancer studies, and NASA is still off line. And, in a city near you, the economic troubles are just beginning.

Not surprisingly, the media's focus has largely been on Washington, D.C. After all, in addition to being the seat of the federal government, that's where the Panda Cam used to transmit cuteness worldwide, where a couple of Republican congressmen helped World War II vets to break into the national WWII memorial, and where staffers of the White House and Congress -- the people who really keep the government running -- are officially off the clock.

%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%But Washington isn't the only place that's feeling the effects of the shutdown -- in fact, by some measures, it's not even feeling them the most. The Washington Post's business section recently compiled a map of the top metropolitan areas when it comes to federal employees. While D.C. had the largest number -- 446,000 -- it actually ran a surprising fourth when it came to percentage of workers who were employed by the federal government.

Colorado Springs, Colo., topped the list: Although it has a comparatively meager 55,000 federal employees, they represent 18.8 percent of its workforce. About 17.2 percent of Virginia Beach's workers draw a government paycheck, as do 17.2 percent of Honolulu's. By comparison, D.C.'s 14.3 percent federal employment seems almost unremarkable.

In some ways, this may sound like hair-splitting. After all, there is little question that the budget showdown is having a brutal impact on the nation's capital: According to one estimate, the current crisis is costing the metropolitan area $200 million every day. Still, it's worth noting that the economic effects of the furlough will be widely shared: According to a JPMorgan estimate, the shutdown is reducing nationwide income by $1.3 billion per week. Add in the multiplier effect of all that lost income, and it's clear that nobody is getting out of this crisis unscathed.*

That having been said, however, it's worth noting that the government is a major employer around the country. And, while military personnel and other "essential" employees are going to stay on the clock, all those "non-essential" workers who push papers and film pandas aren't going to be drawing paychecks. Which means, fairly soon, they'll stop spending those paychecks at the local McDonald's or Bed Bath and Beyond. For that matter, all the people who were counting on getting their veterans benefits started this month will likewise, not have money to spend. With the ripples of this shutdown just starting to spread, it's worth asking just how many degrees of separation there are between a federal employee's spending and your paycheck.

*Except, perhaps, for political analysts, who seem to be having a field day. For a few highlights of the shutdown parade, check out the Washington Post, where Steve Pearlstein is one of many analysts offering a little Monday-morning quarterbacking in his suggestion of how Democrats could fix the whole problem. Or, if you prefer, you could check out FoxNews, which is trying to rebrand the shutdown as a "slimdown." Or, alternately, there's Salon, which is trying to crowdsource a prediction on how long the shutdown will last. The current average prediction is 18 days, and the median is 14 days.

Pop Quiz: What Are the Weirdest Things the Government Funds?
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Coming to a Town Near You: Economic Blowback from the Shutdown

A. An interactive game based on Henry David Thoreau's "Walden"
B. "Zombie Yoga," which teaches players to use visualization and yoga to overcome a zombie infection.
C. "Starlight," a massive, multiplayer game that simulates a trip to Mars.
D. "American Adventures," in which users recreate the classic adventures of George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Davey Crockett, and other American heroes.

In addition to spending $50,000 to develop a slate of games, including "Zombie Yoga," the National Endowment of the Arts spent $40,000 developing a Thoreau game -- which an entertainment critic later described as "the most boring idea for a video game ever." Meanwhile, NASA spent $1.5 million on "Starlight" -- its answer to "World of Warcraft."

A. Creating "Robo-squirrel," a robotic rodent developed to study rattlesnakes.
B. Minting pennies
C. Developing a menu for astronauts traveling to Mars
D. Studying the psychology of golf players

While Robo-squirrel ($325,000), astronaut cookery ($947,000), and golf player psychoanalysis ($350,000) all cost a pretty penny, they pale beside the actual costs associated with producing the little copper coins. It costs 2.4 cents to mint every penny (and 11 cents to mint every nickel). To produce this year's penny supply -- with a face value of $50 million -- the federal government will spend $120 million.

A. The USO's "Comedy Oasis" tour of Iraq
B. NASA's "Voyage to the Stars" tour of U.S. schools
C. The State Department's "Make Chai, Not War" tour of India
D. The Commerce Department's "Making Funny Business" tour of American Chambers of Commerce

A seven-city tour across India, "Make Chai, Not War" cost $100,000 and featured three Indian-American comedians poking fun at their lives in America.

A. Greek Yogurt
B. Idaho Caviar
C. New York Potato Chips
D. New Hampshire Beer

The Department of Agriculture and the Department of Commerce are spending $1.3 million to upgrade the infrastructure at a New York industrial park, in return for which Pepsico has agreed to build a Greek yogurt factory there. The government is also spending $750,000 to help Smuttynose beer company build a brewery in New Hampshire, $300,000 to help the Idaho caviar industry get on its feet, and $49,990 to help promote North Fork potato chips, which are made in New York.

A. West Virginia's "Give Your Kinfolk a Ride" program
B. South Carolina's "Arrive Alive" bathroom poster program
C. Michigan's "Wizmark" talking urinal cakes program
D. Boston's "Wicked Free Cabs for Wicked Wasted Guys" program

The Wizmark program's 400 talking urinal cakes loudly encouraged bar patrons to "Call a sober friend or cab" if they were too drunk to drive home. It also pointed out that they should remember to wash their hands.

A. $20,000
B. $30,000
C. $40,000
D. $50,000

Using $30,000 from the National Science Foundation, researchers from the University of Washington and Cornell University determined that students speed-reading faces were about 60 percent accurate in determining the sexual orientation of the person pictured.

A. A $450,000 program to run an Oklahoma airport that gets one flight per month
B. A $97,000 contest for the best 30-second video on the value of fruits and vegetables
C. A $939,771 study of the sex lives of fruit flies
D. A $1.2 million study on the effects that playing "World of Warcraft" has on elderly people

Yes, they're all real!


Bruce Watson is DailyFinance's Savings Editor. You can reach him by e-mail at, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.

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