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Lack Of Data Processing During Government Shutdown Compounds Economic Effects


With both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Trump seemingly locked into their positions on the government shutdown, state leaders are increasingly grappling with the shutdown's impact. NPR's Wade Goodwyn reports now on the shutdown's trickle-down effect on Texas.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: It's probably not the first thing that pops into one's mind when asked to name a couple of the biggest impacts the shutdown has on the economy. You might think airline travel or the national park system. But one of the biggest economic effects has to do with information, research that the federal government produces monthly or quarterly.

PATRICK JANKOWSKI: My biggest concern right now is that with the - so many federal agencies shut down, we're not getting the data we need to understand what's going on with the economy.

GOODWYN: Patrick Jankowski is the senior vice president of research at the Greater Houston Partnership and the chief economist for the fourth largest city in the country.

JANKOWSKI: If you're trying to make hiring decisions and you want to find out whether the economy is expanding, contracting or what rate it is expanding, you need the regular reports to understand that.

GOODWYN: The impact of the shutdown on the economy radiates out from the absence of federal employees. For example, more than $200 billion a year in trade moves through Texas seaports. But without the review of important paperwork by the Coast Guard - for example, the required certificates of financial responsibility - that ship's not coming into U.S. waters.

Switch gears. Texas has a hundred billion-dollar-a-year agriculture sector. Right now is the time when farmers decide what crops and how much of each crop to plant. Luis Ribera is a professor and agricultural economist at Texas A&M University.

LUIS RIBERA: The different agencies in USDA - they collect a lot if information, which - we use it to analyze and forecast. They're very reliable. They're unbiased.

GOODWYN: Ribera says it says if farmers are now playing poker blindfolded. They're going to have to make their bets, but they have to guess what cards they're holding. Take soybeans, for example. Texas is the largest producer, and soybean farmers want and need to know how much China's been buying or not buying.

RIBERA: Usually, the Foreign Agricultural Service data comes about two months behind, so we should've gotten information by the first week in January. Well, we didn't. So we really don't know. By October, we were down by quite a bit. But now, we have a truce, and we wanted to see how much more soybeans we're sending. And, of course, that's going to impact the price of the products, not only soybeans, all different products.

GOODWYN: The oil and gas industry in Texas remains sound. Projects under review have been slowed. But, with the cost of a barrel of oil in the low 50s, producers are making money. With both American and Southwest Airlines based in Dallas-Fort Worth, the state is host to two powerhouse carriers. And analysts agree the industry's weak point in relation to the shutdown is TSA airport security. It's one of the lowest-paying federal agencies, and a second missed paycheck is certain. Joseph DeNardi is the airline's analyst for Stifel Financial.

JOSEPH DENARDI: Yeah. I'm sure, at some point, you can't expect people to show up for work if they're not being paid. That would be the biggest risk, that, at some point, you have staffing challenges at some of the agencies that directly affect customers' ability to fly. I don't think we're seeing any of that yet.

GOODWYN: Delta announced it would lose $25 million in revenue in January. The industry is expected to have another excellent year. Maybe it will. Maybe it won't. The length of the shutdown could decide.

Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Wade Goodwyn
Wade Goodwyn is an NPR National Desk Correspondent covering Texas and the surrounding states.