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Government Shutdown Could Strain Seacoast Economics

Sam Evans-Brown

The government shut-down hit home for more than 1,700 civilian employees at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, and that could deal a serious blow to the economy of the seacoast region.

The scene outside of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Tuesday painted a picture of what thousands of furloughed federal workers looks like you’ll see a long steady stream of cars leaving the base, but just a trickle headed the other way.

That’s because while most at the shipyard were told to report to work, many were pulled one-by-one into the office of their supervisors and handed a letter.

John Joyal a training instructor and a former official with the American Federation of Government Employees got one of those letters. He says only essential personnel essential to national security are at work today.

“I thought we were actually involved with national security,” he says, chuckling, “Repairing our nation’s submarines; I thought that was a little-bit, kind-of in line with national security.”

There isn’t a final count of how many were furloughed, but at least half of the 4,700 civilian workers on the base weren’t at work. That means they aren’t collecting a paycheck,  and that’s bad news for the seacoast.

“Between our salaries, goods and services and contract work, our shipyard pumps, last year alone, $660 million dollars into the greater seacoast economy,” says Paul O’Connor, president of the Metal Trades Council, another union.

Indeed New Hampshire Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte expressed their concern about that economic impact.

In a joint letter to secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, the two Senators ask that Hagel use his discretion to expand the definition of “excepted” workers, so that more civilians can return to work.

Credit Sam Evans-Brown / NHPR
John Joyal shows off his furlough letter .

While the macro-economics of a government shut-down can sting a whole region, on the micro-side things are equally grim.

“All I know is I want to work and it sucks that I can’t work, because people in Washington can’t seem to get their rears in gear and pass a budget like their paid to do,” says apprentice machinist Dave Clark, who also was sent home today. “I want to do what I’m paid to do, they’re not doing what they’re paid to do and it hurts me.”

This is only the first day of the government shutdown. Pressure will only mount on lawmakers as the voices of those like Clark get louder.  It’s just a question of how loud they will have to get.

Sam Evans-Brown has been working for New Hampshire Public Radio since 2010, when he began as a freelancer. He shifted gears in 2016 and began producing Outside/In, a podcast and radio show about “the natural world and how we use it.” His work has won him several awards, including two regional Edward R. Murrow awards, one national Murrow, and the Overseas Press Club of America's award for best environmental reporting in any medium. He studied Politics and Spanish at Bates College, and before reporting was variously employed as a Spanish teacher, farmer, bicycle mechanic, ski coach, research assistant, a wilderness trip leader and a technical supporter.
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