Sequester Cuts Deep in Rural America
The way the republican congresscritters from the Buffalo Ridge and beyond tell it, the federal government is a bloated jobs program and all the sequester shrunken legions of feds will have to do to keep up is to cut their lunch hours to two and reduce their recreational web surfing a bit. This from a congress that works a four day week at best, takes a week off for most every holiday, and knocks off for the whole month of august! The reality for most feds is a harried workday (or night) struggling to put out fires (sometimes literally) and trying to serve the public in understaffed agencies.
Interestingly, a lot of these republican critics come from states that are rather severely dependent on the federal government and federal workers. States and places here on the Buffalo Ridge like the Dakotas, Republican Steve King’s congressional district in western Iowa, and southwestern Minnesota which fortunately has the benefit of rural savvy democratic congressional representation. Unlike the metro’s, this is a rural region where the invisible departments like Agriculture and Interior affect our everyday lives in significant ways.
Out here, farming and food processing are the major industries, so let’s follow the food cycle from planting to supermarket to see how the sequester will cut deep. Today the fields are covered in a lovely blanket of white, but in a few weeks it’ll be time to plant. But what day is best? Farmers rely on the National Weather Service for accurate forecasts and gigabites of other info like soil temperature and moisture statistics to time their plantings. As sequester cuts deep, Weather Service offices in places like Aberdeen are likely to close and the vital stats buried in the Weather Services website may well disappear. Republicans will say farmers can just tune to the weather channel instead, but the weather channel and their ilk just repackage Weather Service data and add their sensationalistic dramatics… For a farmer, they’re useless. And what to plant? Farming today is intensely data driven, and the Agriculture department supplies most of that data, for now.
OK, we got the planting done, how about the livestock? Well, those reams and endless web pages of statistical guidance may disappear at any time, but you can bet the big packinghouses will have their own stats to take advantage of you. But the packinghouses will go intermittently silent as Agriculture Department inspectors are laid off, and with no inspector the packinghouse shuts down. As I write, no doubt everyone in the frozen food logistics chain is reserving more warehouse space to get them through the unpredictable production schedules trimmed by sequester. In a town like Marshall, Minnesota where Schwans, the turkey plant, and the university are the major employers, intermittent layoffs of a few inspectors cascade into massive layoffs of workers. Those layoffs cascade through the economy as workers quit going out for dinner and put off purchases, and pretty quick our food based rural economy isn’t recession proof anymore.
And with the frost out of the ground, the construction season starts… But maybe not in this season of sequester, as DOT cuts funding for badly needed transportation projects and Agriculture cuts home loans and infrastructure improvements they fund. And even if the funding comes in July or so, the projects won’t get finished and we’ll be driving on half finished dirt roads past foundations without houses all next winter. And that’s just the beginning- Shipments of urgently needed tractor parts and foods headed to export will be delayed at understaffed border crossings and closed airports, national parks and forests will close during peak tourist season, social security applications will be delayed, federal education funding will be cut, and a thousand civilian Defense Department employees in South Dakota alone will be laid off. In a state with a workforce of only 300,000 or so the direct loss of a thousand employees is a lot, and given the usual follow-on loss of a couple thousand more jobs dependent on those thousand Defense jobs, the sequester will ratchet South Dakota’s unemployment rate up by a full percent. In North Dakota the republican state administration there thinks the booming Bakken oil economy can overwhelm the sequester cuts, forgetting that Interior Department cutbacks will delay oil leases, exploration, and drilling. With the rig count in the Bakken having peaked and fallen, sequester will cut deep into the Bakken boom.
Add it all up, multiply by a few months, and the sequester’s deep cuts equal a recession… And we’re still not fully recovered from the last one!