Shutdown nicks DC, slams small town America

Monday - 10/21/2013, 2:00am EDT

Politicians who like to beat on bureaucrats and run against Washington should check with the business community in their home districts in search of the biggest losers. We survived, as did New York City, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Houston, which are all major federal centers. In smaller communities, where Uncle Sam has a huge footprint, the story is different.

Most of the coverage of the 16-day shutdown focused on Washington, the "closed" signs at National Parks, and a few hardship interviews with federal workers here and around the country.

The shutdown was frustrating, and a hardship for many federal workers. No doubt about it. But its short- and long-term impacts was much tougher on millions of people — from government contractors to medium and small business. Unlike furloughed feds, they are not going to get any kind of back pay. Ever.

The period between Thanksgiving and Christmas-New Year is make-it-or-break-it time for millions of people in the retail, hotel and hospitality business. The very costly food fight that produced the shutdown hurt, and in some cases financially ruined, small business from California to Virginia. Some owned businesses in areas that cater to tourists visiting national parks. Some owned hot dog or taco stands outside of nearly empty federal buildings.

Politicians, from the president to members of Congress, blamed Washington- type attitudes (and of course the other political party) for the problems. Washington, not America's favorite city, was the target. Which they missed, again.

With 14 percent of the federal population, this is hardly the rust belt where it is front page news if a new company plans to hire 35 locals. The Washington metro area took a hit. But you have to look hard for the dents. It was nothing like the pain felt in Huntsville or Anniston, Ala., or Ogden, Utah, or Boulder, or San Antonio and other communities that live in large part because of the federal preferences. Small towns where many people work in giant federal centers, or prisons or VA hospitals. Or military bases. Or depend on the dollars of tourists visiting some of the 401 national parks — when they are open.

Congress is currently beating up on National Park Service brass because of the flap at the World War II memorial when 80- and 90-year-old vets — many here for a first and last visit to D.C. — were turned away. Yet it was the politicians who said shut-it-all-down. Obviously, now, they meant "some" and not "all" monuments.

For most feds in Washington, and around the country, the issue is playing catch-up now that they are back at work.

A woman from Washington state called about her aunt, who runs (or rather ran) a small diner outside of Yosemite National Park. She says the forest fires this summer almost ruined many local small business. Almost. The shutdown that followed succeeded in shutting lots of things down. For good.

Hopefully the politicians who let this happen, and those who actually wanted it to happen, will touch base with the folks back home very soon.

When federal workers are eventually paid for the time they didn't work, and all the catch-up costs (and lost revenue) are counted up, the shutdown will be seen as an exercise in futility. Maybe some of our elected leaders should appear together on national television. Is there a show called America's Stupidest Home Videos? If not, we know where to start looking for talent.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

Compiled by Jack Moore

From Quartz:

The incidence of "pumpkin spice" — that distinctive mix of pumpkin, nutmeg and cinnamon — in food served by restaurants increased 234 percent from 2008 to 2012. It's everywhere in the U.S., from air fresheners to tortilla chips, and the drink itself has been copied by Dunkin' Donuts, McDonald's and home chefs.


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