Ripple ef­fect if im­passe con­tin­ues

With­out pay­checks, Pa. work­ers, some busi­nesses in for tough times.

The Morning Call - - FRONT PAGE - By Steve Esack and Eu­gene Tauber

HARRISBURG —The fed­eral shut­down is now in its 24th day, mak­ing it the long­est clo­sure in U.S. his­tory.

The shut­down hit the record Satur­day, one day af­ter pay­checks were sup­posed to go out to the fed­eral govern­ment’s 1.2 mil­lion work­ers. Not all of them got paid, how­ever, due to the cost and pol­i­tics of build­ing a wall along the na­tion’s south­ern bor­der.

That grid­lock means pay­checks were not de­liv­ered to about 800,000 or 66 per­cent of the fed­eral work­force.

About 420,000 em­ploy­ees are re­quired to work with­out pay be­cause they per­form front-line se­cu­rity and safety jobs at the De­part­ments of Jus­tice, Home­land Se­cu­rity, State, Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment, Trans­porta­tion, Trea­sury, Agri­cul­ture, Com­merce and In­te­rior. Oth­ers are fur­loughed with no guar­an­tee

they will get back pay.

How does the im­passe af­fect Penn­syl­va­ni­ans who work for Un­cle Sam?

Roughly 12 per­cent to 13 per­cent of the state’s 97,174 fed­eral work­ers did not get paid, ac­cord­ing to in­ter­views and a Morn­ing Call anal­y­sis of employment data at the Penn­syl­va­nia Depart­ment of La­bor & In­dus­try. That equals 12,000 to 13,000 peo­ple — not in­clud­ing govern­ment con­trac­tors not get­ting paid, too.

“The gen­eral con­sen­sus where I work is you are just a pawn in the game of those [politi­cians] who work in D.C,” said Lisa Thomas, who is work­ing with­out pay as a recre­ation spe­cial­ist at Al­len­wood fed­eral prison in Union County. “They don’t think about us.”

It be­gan with Trump’s Dec. 22 de­ci­sion to par­tially close the govern­ment when Congress did not al­lo­cate $5.7 bil­lion to build a wall along the Mex­i­can bor­der as he re­quested. Democrats, who took con­trol of the U.S. House this month, re­fused his re­quest, leav­ing some agen­cies with­out money. The Repub­li­can-con­trolled Se­nate, so far, has pleaded for com­pro­mise, be­cause Trump has threat­ened to veto bills that do not con­tain wall money.

The shut­down’s ex­act fi­nan­cial im­pact in the house­holds of fed­eral work­ers could not be de­ter­mined for each of Penn­syl­va­nia’s 67 coun­ties. L&I data list ag­gre­gate employment data by pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tor, not by in­di­vid­ual govern­ment agen­cies or busi­nesses. So it’s un­clear ex­actly how many fed­eral work­ers — in­clud­ing the 5,170 who re­side in the Le­high Val­ley and Po­conos — are work­ing or are fur­loughed with­out pay.

One thing is cer­tain, how­ever. When the fed­eral govern­ment is the big­gest or one of the big­gest em­ploy­ers in town, a freeze on pay has a ripple ef­fect. The im­pact on some coun­ties will be worse than oth­ers when those work­ers cut back on pur­chases or get into fi­nan­cial trou­ble with their mort­gage, rent and credit card pay­ments if the shut­down con­tin­ues for months or years as Trump warned.

In Penn­syl­va­nia, the av­er­age fed­eral salary is $74,249 com­pared to the over­all statewide salary av­er­age of $62,657, ac­cord­ing to L&I and U.S. Cen­sus records.

In Le­high County, there are just 858 fed­eral work­ers, so low Un­cle Sam is not a top 10 em­ployer, based on L&I records. The fed­eral govern­ment is the 10th big­gest em­ployer in Northamp­ton County with 1,072 work­ers.

Un­cle Sam is the top em­ployer in six coun­ties — But­ler, Cum­ber­land, Franklin, Le­banon, Luzerne and Mon­roe. Most of those coun­ties also are home to mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tions, which are funded by the Depart­ment of De­fense through a dif­fer­ent fed­eral flow of money.

The fed­eral govern­ment is the num­ber two em­ployer in Union and York coun­ties at 1,568 and 4,227, re­spec­tively.

It’s the third-rank­ing em­ployer in Philadel­phia (29,759) and Al­legheny County (12,903). It’s the fifth high­est (680) in Adams County, home of Gettsy­burg Na­tional Mil­i­tary Park.

Small busi­nesses are a sta­ple of ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties and they rely on re­peat cus­tomers to stay in busi­ness, said Chad D. Mey­er­hoe­fer, a Le­high Univer­sity eco­nomics pro­fes­sor. If fed­eral em­ploy­ees in those com­mu­ni­ties don’t have money to spend, those busi­nesses are go­ing to suf­fer more than busi­nesses in cities and sub­urbs, he said.

“There’s go­ing to be a het­ero­ge­neous ef­fect across coun­ties,” Mey­er­hoe­fer said. “Even ma­jor cities can be hurt by this but their flex­i­bil­ity to adapt is [eas­ier] than ru­ral coun­ties and that’s what the dif­fer­ence is.”

A lot of the work­ers go­ing with­out pay are con­ser­va­tive vot­ers and sup­ported Repub­li­can can­di­dates of the House in their nar­row elec­tion wins in Novem­ber, said Philip Glover, leader of the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Govern­ment Em­ploy­ees. Those GOP congress mem­bers and Trump will need those vot­ers in 2020, he added.

Sen. Pat Toomey, a Repub­li­can, needs to pres­sure Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell to vote on the Demo­cratic House’s fund­ing pack­age or face the pos­si­bil­ity of los­ing union sup­port in 2022, Glover added, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing Demo­cratic Sen. Bob Casey’s wide mar­gin of vic­tory in Novem­ber.

“We have a lot of con­ser­va­tive vot­ers in the mid­dle of Penn­syl­va­nia and they are not sup­port­ive of not get­ting a pay­check,” Glover said.

Toomey, of Zionsville, has a tight re­la­tion­ship with most fed­eral unions. He co-wrote a bi­par­ti­san bill, now law, to re­duce taxes on retiring fed­eral law en­force­ment of­fi­cers. He also spear­headed a bill that passed into law to al­low fed­eral cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers to carry firearms to and from work.

“There is a deal to be made here given that Se­nate Democrats re­peat­edly sup­ported bil­lions for this ob­jec­tive prior to Pres­i­dent Trump’s elec­tion,” said Toomey’s spokesman, Bill Jaf­fee.

On Thurs­day, a group of state Se­nate Democrats sent a let­ter to banks ask­ing them to give fed­eral work­ers a re­prieve on their mortgages and other bills while the shut­down is in ef­fect.

Ask­ing for le­niency doesn’t work, said Thomas, the prison worker. She said she tried it on the advice of the U.S. Of­fice of Per­son­nel Man­age­ment.

“Cred­i­tors said they didn’t want to hear it,” Thomas said.

If the shut­down con­tin­ues, the ef­fects will only get worse for non­govern­ment work­ers, said Mey­er­hoe­fer, the econ­o­mist. Pri­vate com­pa­nies and uni­ver­si­ties could lay off em­ploy­ees if they are un­able to ap­ply for new fed­eral con­tracts and grants as part of their re­search and op­er­a­tions.

“It’ll be a de­layed ef­fect,” he said.

THE MORN­ING CALL An in­ter­ac­tive map show­ing the num­ber of fed­eral work­ers in each county is at the­morn­ing­call.com.

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