Unless you have been living under a rock, or unless you have already stopped looking for evidence of effective government, you have probably heard about the 35-day federal government shutdown during December 2018 and January 2019. After surpassing the previous record for the longest shutdown by almost two weeks, the shutdown has affected a vast number of Americans in substantial ways.
Eight-hundred thousand federal workers were not paid for almost five weeks – about half was sent on a leave of absence and the other half was asked to continue working and wait until the government reopened to be paid. Although departments that were previously funded stayed open, many others suffered when employees could not be paid. Employees from airports, national parks, scientific research labs and many more worked without pay, increasing the overall impact of the shutdown.
Many national parks completely closed down during the shutdown due to lack of officials to clean toilets, pick up trash, and regulate the parks. In Yellowstone, a hunter illegally shot an elk, and Joshua Tree National Park was forced to close after staying open for the first few weeks only to be polluted and disrespected. Scientific research, some of it time sensitive, was also interrupted – workers from Fish and Wildlife Research and the National Weather Service were sent home, and pollution inspections had to be delayed. Regular food inspections by the FDA suffered when they were forced to furlough 40 percent of their employees. Immigration courts became backlogged, leading to long delays in deportations. Many workers at the F.B.I. and Border Security also were not paid for the duration of the shutdown. Staff at airports on the East coast who had not received a paycheck for over a month finally forced President Trump to reopen the government when many called in sick on Jan. 25, and the Flight Attendant’s Union threatened a genuine walkout.
Hundreds of thousands of federal employees were and still are directly affected by the shutdown, having trouble paying mortgages, medical bills, and much more. Even more were indirectly affected without the circulation of the paychecks coming from the government.
When government employees are not paid, they cannot spend their money on things such as transportation, child care, or restaurants; there is a chain of people who do not receive the money that these federal workers would have spent. Cab drivers have less business, nannies are laid off, and waitresses and waiters suffer without tips.
People also reconsider having a federally funded job when, unexpectedly, they receive no pay and can see no paycheck in the near future. After a government shutdown, numerous people look for other jobs that might be more stable.
Although we might be out of hot water for the time being, the agreement that was reached to reopen the government is only good until Feb. 15 — this Friday. Trump states that if, by Feb. 15, Congress has not reached an agreement to fund the wall, he will either shut the government down again or declare a national emergency to address the situation.