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So Where's the Pain From Sequester Cuts?

Rich Legg | E+ | Getty Images

Remember all the draconian warnings about how the sequester was going to devastate the American economy?

From the President on down, officials in Washington and around the country predicted massive job losses, cutbacks in consumer spending, and slow economic growth if the mandatory cuts— $85 billion in defense and discretionary spending starting March 1 — went into effect.

But a little over four weeks later, Social Security checks are still going out, long lines at airports have yet to surface and the sky hasn't fallen — at least not yet.

"It was overblown by everyone, from Republicans and Democrats," said Timothy Nash, professor of economics at Northwood University.

"I don't think anything drastic is going to happen for at least six more months if Congress and the White House don't come to a deal on the budget," Nash explained. "The impact has been overstated."

So what happened? Well, this isn't to say there's been no pain from sequestration. There has been.

But most of the immediate government furloughs and layoffs were delayed when Congress reached a deal in late March to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year.

That continuing resolution (CR) moved money around inside many government departments that avoided the more serious reductions in staffing. But those larger cuts or furloughs could still happen in the summer as well as the fall.

But make no mistake, some are already on the boards. (Read More: Sequester Hasn't Hit Jobs Yet: Goldman's Hatzius)

Due to the sequester, the federal government lost 14,000 full time jobs in March, and almost all of them were in the U.S. Postal Service.

But sequester impacts are more local than national at this point. For example, furloughs to federal civilian workers in southeastern Virginia — recently reduced from 22 to to 14 between now and September— have taken effect.

Also, some 5,000 sailors from the aircraft carrier Truman — also based in southeastern Virginia — were told they weren't going on a six month deployment and lost pay for that time. (American uniformed personnel are exempt from pay cuts but not furloughs). Local officials say this is a big loss to their economy.

There are more defense cuts taking place. An air force base in Tullahoma, Tennessee reportedly will end 128 of 1,809 civilian jobs on April 19. There's already a 20 percent pay cut and weekly furloughs for those remaining.

The U.S. Army garrison in Rock Island, Illinois has announced its firing 175 workers. Northrup Gruman information services in Lawton, Oklahoma has just sent out 26 layoff notices.

Non-Defense Cuts

As for non-defense related cuts from the sequester those too are real. Conventions centers are reporting financial losses from the cancellation of government trade shows.

The General Services Administration Show, an annual training and networking event that provides education on government acquisition processes, was scheduled in May for the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida, but was cancelled in February. Thousands of people were expected to attend and estimates were that it would have provided some $13.3 million to the area.

As for the airways, an airport control tower, less than a year old, was closed in Frederick, Maryland. It was said to be the busiest general aviation airport in the state with some 130,000 flights a year. (Read More: Sequestration's Effects Felt at Nation's Air Shows)

Spirit Airlines was to open a new route Thursday with non-stop service between Philadelphia and Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas — the celebration included an Elvis impersonator — but official okay from the Federal Aviation Administration failed to come through in time. Spirit didn't blame the FAA because of sequestration but noted that the spending cuts had taken place. (The 78 passengers on the inaugural flight were flown to Atlantic City from Dallas and then bused to Philadelphia, with full refunds)

National parks are also under the effects of sequestration. Many, like Fort Pulaski National Monument in Savannah, Georgia, have already put a freeze on hiring the usual seasonal workers for the summer. And some positions, like maintenance workers that are vacant, will not be filled at least this year.

Government programs like Head Start, which provides health and educational services to low income children, are now in the midst of furloughing workers in states like Pennsylvania, Wyoming, Florida, and Missouri as well as cutting back on services.

Help for the jobless is also on the chopping block as unemployment benefits are being curtailed in states like Pennsylvania and Utah — where a 12.8 percent reduction in emergency unemployment compensation has taken place.

Medicare patients have been reportedly turned away in Manchester, Connecticut as sequestration has cut payments to doctors for the government program. (Read More: Obama: Government Will Manage Sequester 'the Best We Can')

Cuts in career development programs, layoffs of teachers, reduction in overtime pay for custom agents are all in the current mix across the U.S. Many government sponsored housing programs and shelters are now cutting back hours, employees and services, and leaving thousands of lower income families without vouchers to pay rent.

At least one company, Delta, is blaming the sequester for lower revenue predictions. (Read More: Blame the Sequester: Delta Cuts Q1 Forecast)

Even the U.S. Army Field Band cancelled a free concert on April 30 at a local high school in Orangeburg, South Carolina because of sequestration.

And of course the White House has temporarily stopped all tours because of the cuts. That's on top of furloughing some 480 staffers in the Office of Management and Budget — 10 days between April 21 and September 7. Oh, and all White House staffers are currently forced to curtail the use of air cards — those wireless adapters for cell phones.

So while there's an actual list of real sequester cuts, many people are immune so far and likely feel that the whole thing has been blown out of proportion. It may feel more like a slow economic death by a long series of little cuts, rather than one big one.

But history could repeat itself in a few months, say analysts.The warnings could come again and be on target this time. And then everyone would feel the pain.

"Once sequester spreads on a bigger scale, then people will really feel it," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moodys. "One hopes Congress and the White House will reach a deal on deficit reduction, and I think they will, but if they don't, people won't be so apathetic about it as they are now."

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