For the Hedbergs, a family from Sweden visiting New York, the sign at the head of the path that leads down to the ferries to Liberty Island – home to the Statute of Liberty – was more cause for bewilderment than disappointment.
“IMPORTANT,” read the headline, rendered in red above the message: “Government Shut-Down.” “The Government has temporarily shut down both the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island,” said the sign in Battery Park area on the southern tip of Manhattan. “I don’t understand it,” said Eric, the father, who, with his wife and daughter, was surprised to hear that the government of the richest country in the world had, well, partially shut down over partisan bickering in Washington. “There’s no excuse, is there?”
Although they couldn’t visit the statute – which is managed by the National Parks Service, a federal agency that must suspend its services and send scores of workers on unpaid leave owing to the budget impasse – the Hedbergs and the other visitors did have an alternative: a harbour tour. But there were no alternatives for around 800,000 federal workers across the country. Many of them, when they showed up for work this morning, were told that they had no choice but to sit the shutdown out, and on their own dime.
In New York, the shutdown did little to interrupt the daily rhythm of the city. But many will be impacted if the shutdown persists: according to 2012 figures from the US Office of Personnel Management, the city is home to around 26,696 federal employees working for the executive branch, many of whom were told to take time off. Including workers spread across northern New Jersey and Long Island, the figure swells to over 50,000.
The picture was reported to be starker in Washington, where a large chunk of the population is employed by the federal government. The OPM puts the count of federal employees working for the executive branch at 133,698. There are another 21,676 in Arlington, Virginia, and 7,235 in Baltimore, Maryland. To the north, in Bethesda, work another 14,712, while to the south, Alexandria, Virginia, is home to over 14,000.
National monuments across the capital were closed, and many office workers were sent home.
The shutdown extended to cyberspace – the Nasa website was reduced to a single page with the message: “Due to the lapse in federal government funding, this website is not available.” The same was true of the website of the US Department of Agriculture.
Local politicians have put measures in place to ensure services in Washington will continue until mid-October – but then, if the budget issue is not resolved, residents could see a reduction in basic functions such as trash collection.