Heading into another budget battle this fall, the number of Americans who say they have been negatively affected by the sequester budget cuts is on the rise, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
Twenty-two percent of Americans in the survey say they have been significantly affected by the cuts, which are a product of Congress’ inability to reach a compromise on a broader budget deal last year. Shortly after the sequester first took place in April, just 16 percent said they had been significantly impacted by the policy.
And one specific group – Americans who earn less than $30,000 per year – say they have been the hardest hit. Among all respondents under that income level, 31 percent say they have been affected by the spending cuts, up from 24 percent in April and the most of any other income level group.
There is a tale of two sequesters to be told – while the overall economy has weathered it relatively well, the cuts have taken the biggest toll on the nation’s most vulnerable. Those same Americans could face even worse circumstances if Republicans are able to make on their good to extract more reductions to government spending this fall.
“The sequester has really diminished our business,” said Boubakar Diop, a 41-year-old limousine driver in Raleigh, N.C., where he said fewer of the government employees who usually need rides have been passing through town. “We don’t get the customers like we used to.”
NBC News contacted Diop and other working-class poll respondents who described the hardships they or members of their family or friends have experienced as a result of the sequester.
Robert Deuel, a 61-year-old man in northern Michigan, said that his son has seen his hours cut from his job at Camp Grayling because of the sequester, leaving him, with less money in his paycheck to support his spouse and two-month-old at home.
“They offered him a job on the federal payroll and now they’re only paying him for half what he works,” Deuel said.
Despite the pain, some of the most alarming predictions about the sequester have not come to fruition. The economy has not plunged back into recession as many predicted. And while economic growth remains somewhat anemic, the economy has continued to add jobs every month since the sequester onset.
President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner both voiced concerns about the effect of the cuts on the economy before the sequester went into effect.
But many Republicans have accused the Obama administration of being too alarmist about the overall impact. Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., told the Washington Post this month that Obama’s credibility is diminished because “they had the doomsday scenario,” about the sequester, “and the sky didn’t fall.”
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., told Fox News on July 10: “The one lesson of the sequester is that there's a lot of fluff that can be cut out before we actually have to get to things that are important, like paying our soldiers, providing for our wounded soldiers. All of that needs to be done, and if you cut out all the extra stuff we're doing, we'd have plenty of money to take care of our soldiers.”
Yet Randi Allen, a 21-year-old student in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, said that cuts to education funding for her National Guardsman husband have become a “constant” stress for the two of them.
“The cost of schooling is already enough, when he went in they promised he’d get it paid for,” she said. “He has to pay a lot out of pocket now.”The sequester is also making it more difficult for younger Americans – the unemployment rate for those between the ages of 20 and 24 was 13.5 percent in June – who are struggling to find their footing in an economy still recovering from the Great Recession.
Ben Rhiger, a 28-year-old warehouse worker in Portland, Ore., didn’t lose his job, but said a researcher friend lost his job due to the sequester. And Rhiger voiced outrage that the spending cuts potentially set back a generation of young workers.
“In a time when we could have had more cash in the economy by having the government be a spender, be a customer to the economy, we didn’t do that. In fact, we took more money out of the economy. For that reason, there’s just less job opportunities for everybody entering the job market after college,” he said. “It just decreased any opportunity of getting more work experience, learning a trade or skill on the job, while being able to support ourselves.”
Whether these stories will resonate during the fall’s battles over government spending is another question. Obama, who took his case for less severe spending cuts on the road this week, warned against repeating a similar outcome.
"Right now, what we’ve got in Washington, we've seen a sizable group of Republican lawmakers suggest that they wouldn’t vote to pay the very bills that Congress rang up. And that fiasco harmed a fragile recovery in 2011 and we can't afford to repeat that," Obama warned during a speech at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. "Rather than reduce our deficits with a scalpel ... we've got folks who’ve insisted on leaving in place a meat cleaver called the sequester that's cost jobs."