FURLOUGHING WORKERS rather than laying them off outright while President Clinton and Congress argue over balancing the budget may sound painless, but it's not. With one of every 10 federal employees calling Maryland home, this state is already feeling the sting. If the furloughs persist, that pain could become unbearable. Federal employees in Maryland are normally paid nearly $5 billion a month.
For now only 600 of 14,000 Baltimore-area employees of the Social Security Administration have been declared "essential," but some may be back at work Monday to process new claims. About 6,400 of the 7,700 civilian employees at Aberdeen Proving Ground were sent home, as were about half of the 3,700 civilian employees at Fort Meade.
The Naval Academy furloughed 450 workers, including professors. And having the space shuttle Atlantis on a mission didn't stop the furlough of 10,000 workers at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt.
The workers have been told they will receive back pay for the days they have been ordered to stay home, but they don't know when.
This means furloughed workers have to be careful how they spend money. That is starting to create an economic ripple affecting stores and other merchants who every day depend on trade with this state's 220,000 federal workers.
There's also the cost to American citizens who are denied access to government services, such as making Social Security claims or visiting national parks, during the furloughs.
The furloughs may have changed the minds of those Americans who had discounted the seriousness of the debate over balancing the federal budget. Any compromise reached now must convince the public that it was worth the price of telling thousands of government employees they need not show up for work. That is especially so in Maryland, which seems to be paying the highest price of all.