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Washington’s Strong Economy, Financed by Taxpayers, Takes Hit From Shutdown

WASHINGTON — It was almost lunchtime at a food court downtown and Yonas A. Seyoum, the manager of the Esprinto Café, marched over to the cash register and printed out the morning’s sales.

“It’s crazy,” he said, holding up a drooping receipt.

He had done $52.71 of business in five hours, miserable even for January.

“Not even enough to pay her,” Mr. Seyoum said, motioning to the cashier, a young woman leaning on the counter and playing gin rummy on her phone.

He added: “It’s like a ghost city — totally dead.”

As the country nears the end of its third week of a government shutdown, the consequences of Washington’s political dysfunction are landing right on the city’s doorstep. The Washington metro area is home to the largest number of federal workers in the country, and as their paychecks begin to stop, the negative effects threaten to spread across the region.

This is an unusual problem for a region that boasts one of the country’s richest, strongest economies, powered by government spending and a large, stable federal work force.

It is a place that lives on the legions of lobbyists and lawyers who knock on the doors of government. At the core is a federal work force divided between those at the upper echelons of the Civil Service making six-figure salaries, and those making less pay in lower-ranking jobs. The Washington area’s African-American population has traditionally been one of the chief beneficiaries of the government’s large pool of middle-class jobs.

And those who are the most affected are people at the lower end of the income ladder with no savings and no way to make up the loss.

The metro area has about 360,000 federal workers, representing 11.5 percent of the region’s full-time work force, according to Stephen Fuller, an economist at George Mason University who focuses on the Washington area. Of that group, about 145,000 have been furloughed, he said. This does not account for the many federal contractors whose pay is dependent on the government and who, unlike those in the Civil Service, do not expect any back pay.

Mr. Fuller said that as long as the shutdown ended before February, the economic effect on the overall region would be minimal — about 2.8 percent of the region’s economic daily output. Still, the longer the shutdown went on, the higher chance it would cause more lasting damage, he said.

When other parts of the country suffered during the Great Recession, the area around the nation’s capital boomed. Over the last decade, a wave of new restaurants, bars and retailers have opened, catering to young professionals. But some of the small businesses that have sprung up in recent years are now feeling the brunt of the shutdown.

Abu Ahamed, a Bangladeshi-American food truck owner parked near the National Portrait Gallery, said that his sales had plummeted and that he had taken the emergency step of offering passers-by free samples.

“Sample?” he shouted, holding a piece of lamb kebab on a toothpick toward a woman walking by, who smiled but did not stop.

He said he had made about $50 on Saturday and $172 on Sunday, tiny fractions of what he usually earned, and was worried he would not be able to pay his rent if the shutdown kept going. He applied for a job with his old employer, CVS, and was told he would hear back in two weeks.

“I said, ‘I need the job right now!’” he said, his head poking out the window of his green truck.

At home, when he explained the family’s situation to his 10-year-old daughter, he could tell she was troubled.

“I said, ‘Do you have enough for the lunch?’ and she told me, ‘But Daddy, you don’t have any money!’” he said. “I think she feels hunger but she doesn’t tell us. As a father, this is very painful.”

Source : NYTimes

By Sabrina Tavernise


  • takes hit from shutdown
  • financed by taxpayers
  • washington’s strong economy