by Robert B. Reich
So far, the much-dreaded "sequester" -- some
The dire warnings that had issued from the White beforehand -- threatening that
Sure, March's employment report was a big disappointment. But it's hard to see any direct connection between those poor job numbers and the sequester. The government has been shedding jobs for years. Most of the losses in March were from the
Take a closer look, though, and Americans are starting to feel the pain. They just don't know it yet.
That's because so much of what the government does affects the nation in local, decentralized ways. Federal funds find their way to community housing authorities, state unemployment offices, local school districts, private universities and companies. So it's hard for most Americans to know that the sequester is responsible for the lost funding, lost jobs or just plain inconvenience.
A tiny sampling:
These cuts -- and thousands like them -- are so particular and localized, they don't feel as if they're the result of a change in national policy.
It's just like what happened with the big federal stimulus of 2009 and 2010, but in reverse. Then, money flowed out to so many different places and institutions that most Americans weren't aware of the stimulus program as a whole.
A second reason the sequester hasn't been visible is that a large share of the cuts are in programs directed at the poor -- and America's poor are often invisible.
For example, the Salt Lake Community Action Program recently closed a food pantry in Murray, Utah, serving more than 1,000 needy people every month.
Some 1,700 poor families in and around Sacramento, Calif., are likely to lose housing vouchers that pay part of their rents. More than 180 students are likely to be dropped from a
Most Americans don't know about these and other cuts because the poor live in different places than the middle class and wealthy. Poverty has become ever more concentrated geographically.
A third reason the sequester is invisible is that many people whose jobs are affected by it are being "furloughed" rather than fired. "Furlough" is a euphemism for working shorter workweeks and taking pay cuts.
Two thousand civilian employees at the
Furloughs spread the pain. The hardship isn't as evident as it would be if it came in the form of mass layoffs. But don't fool yourself: A 20 percent pay cut is a huge burden for those who have to endure it.
Bear in mind, finally, that the sequester is just starting. The sheer scale of it is guaranteed to make it far more apparent in coming months.
Some 140,000 low-income families will lose their housing vouchers, for example. Entire communities that depend mainly on defense-related industries or facilities will take major hits.
If you thought March's job numbers were disappointing, just wait.
With the sequester, America has adopted austerity economics. Yet austerity economics is the wrong medicine at exactly the wrong time. Look what it's done to Europe.
The Stealth Sequester | Politics