The town of Florissant grew on the aspirations of people such as Navy veteran Antonio Burnett and his wife, Annette, who landed two of the 25,000 federal jobs in the St. Louis region. Antonio, 43, became an information technology specialist at the Agriculture Department’s rural development and farm loan program. Annette, 40, joined the IRS as a taxpayer advocate. They bought their first home — a spacious rancher — and started saving to send their five children to college.
But this week, the Burnett family, along with about 2,000 other federal workers who live in this northern suburb of St. Louis, found their hopes in jeopardy, their community besieged. Like many others, the Burnetts were told they shouldn’t come to work because of the government shutdown. They had little idea when they might return.
Washington is not the only front line in the shutdown.
The vast majority of federal workers, about 85 percent, live outside the Washington region, and the furloughing of about 800,000 employees is having a far-reaching impact, often in places where many of the good private-sector jobs have vanished. Three thousand civilian workers, for instance, were furloughed this week at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. In Colorado, where the federal government is the largest employer, about 40,000 employees are out of work during the shutdown.
In addition to about 1,000 employees furloughed at the Agriculture Department facility where Antonio Burnett works, 500 St. Louis area employees of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have been ordered to stay home. Across the Missouri River in Illinois, at Scott Air Force Base, 3,000 more civilian employees, many of whom live in St. Louis and its suburbs, were furloughed, and hundreds more were ordered off the job at the city’s elegant Gateway Arch and the National Personnel Records Center, which houses the fingerprints and military records of Elvis Presley, among millions of other people.
Trying to cushion the blow
Here in the St. Louis area, churches and libraries are seeking to cushion the economic blow, following what they term “Midwest tradition” to hold “shutdown survival financial planning classes” in coming weeks. The United Way is partnering with the AFL-CIO to offer union members as much as $300 of emergency financial assistance for those facing delinquent rents or mortgages, along with referrals to food pantries for children of the shutdown.
The community has a history of pulling together, most recently during the recession, Antonio Burnett says.
This week, he attended his son’s Pop Warner football practice, cheering from the sidelines under the lights at St. Vincent Park. Neighbors strolling past cheered his T-shirt that read: “Labor Conquers All Things.”