Shutdown 2018 is trending everywhere and is on every news outlet. It’s a pretty big deal and has the potential to impact almost everyone in one way or another. From visiting national parks to filing your taxes to catching a flight, in some way your life could possibly be touched. While you may feel one way or another about the circumstances surrounding the current shutdown, which is now on its 24th day with no end in sight, the reality is that there are real-world consequences to this whole ordeal.
Living in the region that surrounds the nation’s capital, the impact of a government shutdown is a little more prominent than regions outside of this political hotbed. With the current shutdown impacting 800,000 workers total, about half of those workers are located in the DC metro area. It is the livelihood of this region. It is hard to find a household that doesn’t contain someone that works for the government, or that doesn’t contain someone who is a contractor for the government. Nearly every business in this region relies on government employees buying their products or services. Restaurants rely on patrons that are government employees. Caregivers provide services to children of government employees. Even ride-share providers such as Uber and Lyft rely on the comings and goings of government employees in this area for income. In short, when the government shuts down, this region suffers. Money is not flowing, inventories are not being purchased, services are not being contracted. It literally takes food off the table of a majority of households in this region. And with this particular shutdown overlapping the Christmas holiday, a time when people go above and beyond their normal spending, a major employer shutting down is huge.
I’ve been a humble civil servant for 13 years now. Prior to federal service, I worked for huge multinational businesses. But I was always told by family and friends that true job security happens when you work for the government. Known for its stable work structure and great benefits, those that work for the government tend to retire from the government. For most, the stability is the biggest selling point for becoming a federal employee. It was for me. I was in a place where I wanted to think about my long term future, I wanted to feel like I was doing something useful for my fellow citizens, and I wanted the stability that came with a job with the government. And in my 13 years as a civil servant, I’ve had two second significant shutdowns (the first being in 2013 and lasted for 17 days), the second happened so quickly that we only missed a day’s work, and this one is my third. In addition, there have been too many to count shutdown threats. I never had anything like this in private industry.
So on behalf of those 800,000 workers dealing with this situation, and waiting to know when and if they will return to work, let me explain what it’s like being on furlough.
Mild. Initially. The shutdown came as people were preparing for the holidays, doing last minute shopping, ripping and running to various events and parties, and traveling to their holiday destinations. What better time for your office to close for a couple days? The assumption was that come the new year, this would all be sorted out in time to jump back into work as scheduled.
Uncertain. It began to become obvious that this shutdown had the potential to not see a quick resolution. And then the real-world issues started coming to mind. When and if I will receive another pay check, how far will those funds last me, do I have savings to last a while, what bills are due, how much money is available to spend on groceries and gas, how long do I have to prepare for?
Confused. As you start weighing out the few options you have in front of you, you don’t know whether to hold your position and do nothing; file for unemployment knowing the consequences; or potentially be late with paying bills and deal with the dominoes that fall from making that decision. It became imperative to start mapping out a few possible plans for money in the near future.
Worried. I don’t want to say I am not feeling the stress of the shutdown, but I will say that I am fortunate to co-habitate with someone that’s not a government employee, and that my only dependent is my aging, ornery cat. However, we are, at the moment, paying for two households, and our finances are kept separately, so any money that I may need will have to be asked for and paid back (my preference, not his). While spending habits may have to be adjusted for the home, I am not likely to go hungry or homeless. But…for those that live in single-income households, that have children, that take care of parents, that are dealing with a less than ideal situation, and that money paid on time every time, is imperative to their day-to-day survival, this situation is dire. If you miss one check, you may be able to hold off a landlord or creditor for a little while. You may be able to use gift cards from the holidays or tighten up the food budget to make ends meet for a little while. You can put yourself in a no-spend status for a few weeks and hope it ends quickly. But that may not work for all situations because a lot of bills just do not work like that, and that’s worrisome.
Heartbroken. For those that are required to report to work with no pay, my heart truly breaks. Commuting to work takes money, cleaning uniforms takes money, parking your car, catching a train, riding a bus…all takes money. Paying for childcare while you’re at work takes money. And for some, the ability to get to a job and work it, while getting paid nothing in return…is not only wrong, impossible, and f*^$’d up, it’s demoralizing and hurtful. It’s causing people to call out sick, leaving their fellow employees overworked and vulnerable, which in turn puts the public at risk. Workers ranging from prison guards to TSA workers, calling out sick because it’s too costly or too demoralizing to come to work, thus putting the other safety officers at risk because they are understaffed, or putting the public at risk because something slides through undetected. Words like “involuntary servitude” are being used and that’s essentially what it amounts to. It’s just heartbreaking to think about all of the people that are suffering or the people that could potentially be harmed.
Stressed. As February 1st approaches, issues such as healthcare start coming into play. With no paychecks, health insurance eventually will stop getting paid, and with no pay coming in, furloughed employees may be unable to pay their own premiums out of pocket. Sickness and injury happens all day every day, and potential lack of healthcare leaves furloughed workers and their families vulnerable to risks. In addition, February 1st will mark a month without pay, and the point where credit scores may start being effected, landlords may be unforgiving, and the pantry may start getting more and more bare. All of that is scary and stressful beyond words.
Infuriated. You feel like a pawn in a game that you have no control over. You feel like people do not truly care about you, your family, your friends, or your livelihood. All they care about are pride issues…winning, losing, saving face, how they are perceived, getting jabs in, media time, etc. Meanwhile your family, friends, and neighbors are suffering in very real ways.
Hopeless. The sides that control your situation are dug in. Neither wants to budge. Neither wants to listen. And each day, it seems like they get more set on staying that way. It feels out of your control, and it quite frankly, feels hopeless.
I do honestly feel like EVENTUALLY this situation will be resolved and things will get back on track. I never thought I’d be at almost the month mark without knowing how long it will go on. This has given me some time to do some things around the house (purge anyone??), and do some writing, which I feel like I never have time for. But I’d love to put some of the emotions mentioned above to bed, and get back to work.