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Boulder, Colo., Feels Furloughed Government Workers' Pain

Oct 11, 2013
Originally published on October 11, 2013 5:25 pm

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Let's check in now on some people and places affected by the large-scale federal government shutdown. We go first to Boulder, Colorado. Its home to hundreds of federal research laboratory employees and thousands more university and contract workers, all locked out of federal buildings and labs during the budget impasse.

As Grace Hood of member station KUNC reports, the higher-than-average income earners are starting to be missed in the local economy.

GRACE HOOD, BYLINE: Furloughed research chemist Andy Langford has gotten pretty good at not spending money.

ANDY LANGFORD: Trying to clean out my garage, which is coming along.

(LAUGHTER)

HOOD: Langford has spent the past week in coffee shops instead of restaurants. He's avoided big ticket items like a fancy new GPS watch. It's all part of his effort, and most furloughed workers, to limit purchases.

LANGFORD: I suspect, like a lot of other people, you know, my credit card is going to see a lot of action here in the coming weeks until this thing gets resolved.

HOOD: Langford is one of 400 employees on unpaid leave right now at the U.S. Department of Commerce Boulder Labs. In addition to furloughs, Alexander MacDonald, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, says more than 1,000 non-government workers don't have access to instruments or equipment on campus.

ALEXANDER MACDONALD: Right now I think everybody is just watching the news and crossing their fingers.

HOOD: MacDonald directs a lab with about 140 furloughed workers.

MACDONALD: That has an impact. People, you know, are going to hold off buying things.

HOOD: The U.S House of Representatives passed a bill ensuring that furloughed workers receive back pay. The bill is stalled right now in the Senate. Regardless of what's decided, the impact of the shutdown is starting to become clear at some local businesses.

MEGAN LOI: The traffic is a lot quieter. We haven't seen any of our regular customers for the last week.

HOOD: Megan Loi manages a Chinese and Vietnamese restaurant near the federal labs. Since the shutdown, she's seen a 50 percent decrease in lunch business.

LOI: For a month we can handle it. But I think longer, we have to figure out something as well.

HOOD: And once a lunch is skipped, it's not something people will go back and buy later.

A few doors down, barber Anthony Goffredo takes a break outside his empty shop.

ANTHONY GOFFREDO: A few weeks ago, everything was flood, flood, flood. And now it's a little more like 50/50 on flood and the government.

HOOD: Goffredo says students returning to the nearby University of Colorado campus have helped offset some of his loss of business. He says he'll start worrying about his barber shop if the shutdown continues through the end of the month.

GOFFREDO: It's a big portion of our economy here. And it will trickle through everywhere.

HOOD: Economic activity associated with Boulder federal labs totaled more than $740 million in fiscal year 2012. That includes everything from salaries to operating expenses and rent. Research associate Brian Lewandowski, at the University of Colorado-Boulder LEEDS School of Business, says the economic impact reaches beyond Boulder.

BRIAN LEWANDOWSKI: We notice that employees live in a majority of the counties in Colorado. So as the wages get turned off during a government shutdown, those wage impacts are felt much more broadly.

HOOD: Lewandowski says the longer the shutdown continues, the deeper the impact could be.

The National Ecological Observatory Network, or NEON, is a nonprofit that relies solely on National Science Foundation dollars. Chief operating officer Krista Laursen says her organization is continuing operations this month. But November is a different story.

KRISTA LAURSEN: If the government shutdown continues beyond midnight of October 31, then NEON will need to furlough employees.

HOOD: Laursen says that's when construction of a new $430 million climate change observatory would grind to a halt, meaning more negative trickle down for restaurants, construction workers, barbers. It's yet another reason why scientists and businesses here are hoping for a swift end to the budget impasse.

For NPR News, I'm Grace Hood. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.