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The Metros That Sorely Need the U.S. Government to Keep Paying Its Bills

With any luck, these maps will be moot by the end of the day. The U.S. Congress will work out a last-ditch solution to raise the debt ceiling and re-open the government. And the risk of default will come off the table (for now).

While we wait, though, it's important to note, as have over at the Brookings Institution, that the consequences of a default would be felt unevenly across the country. If the U.S. ever does default, it's unclear how and when Social Security checks would be paid, or whether the federal government would be able to prioritize some payments over others as the money starts to run out. But we do know that some metro populations rely much more heavily than others on resources that come from the federal government, whether that's in the form of direct paychecks, Social Security payments, monthly allotments of food stamps, veterans' benefits, or subsidies to help pay for infant nutrition.

Starting with Social Security, we've looked before at the wildly varying age demographics of American cities. For a variety of reasons (local job prospects, access to health care, climate), some metros have a disproportionately large share of retirees. And that means those same cities may disproportionately suffer if Social Security checks don't show up on time. Muro and

In North Port, Florida, 45 percent of families receive Social Security. In Youngstown, Ohio, it's 36 percent. That's an awful lot of people (many likely without other income sources) to miss payments at the same time.

This next map, also from Muro and shows the metros with the greatest reliance on food stamps:

McAllen, Texas, tops the list with 33 percent of families receiving SNAP benefits in 2012. This map from Calvin Metcalf extends the picture of food stamp reliance nationwide, by percentage of the county population:

Metros in the South and Appalachia would be particularly harmed. These next two maps, drawn at the state level by the Urban Institute, show where federal resources are concentrated in two other programs for the needy: the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF), and the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). Both of those programs, touching 4.4 million and 8.7 million people respectively, have already been endangered by the shutdown.

Veterans, many of them awaiting disability payments or G.I. Bill benefits, are also geographically clustered, per this county map from the Department of Veterans Affairs:

Backlogs for disability benefits to newer veterans are also particularly long in the nation's largest metros.

These maps only scratch the surface of where government resources are most concentrated geographically.

Emily Badger is a former staff writer at The Atlantic Cities based in Washington, D.C. She now writes for The Washington Post. All posts »

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