Hundreds of thousands of federal workers are not getting paid right now because the government is shut down. By now, you’ve read dozens of versions of that sentence over the last month, but as the shutdown stretches longer and longer, it gets more difficult to conceptualize what exactly that means.
Per the New York Times today, four weeks without pay means $5,000, on average, that federal workers and their families do not have. If they’re full-time employees, they’ve been promised that money in back pay once the government re-opens, but most contractors who work for the government will be shit out of luck.
What would losing $5,000 in pay mean to you? If you’re like me, it’s not a fun thing to think about. What would you do? How would you pay rent? Could you buy food? Do you have a side job that could pick up the slack?
As you do this hypothetical in your head, subtracting a cool $5,000 from your unique family calculus, consider that for many, many federal employees the outlook is much worse. The Times has a very neatly organized and utterly horrifying graphic detailing just how bad it is for workers in different branches of the government. The 4,436 furloughed Securities and Exchange Commission workers are owed $12,543 each, on average. The 17,564 NASA employees are owed an average of $8,082. TSA airport screeners, the Times reported, make an average of $41,000 a year and are out $2,700 each, so far. They’re already paid like shit, and now they’re not paid at all. DHS employees overall are out $5,895 each on average, and there are 245,405 out of work.
In another Times story out Tuesday, Kevin Hassett, a Trump stooge who runs the Council of Economic Advisers, continued blaming the shutdown on Democrats during a public address but ended up giving up a neatly-wrapped parable for Republican fiscal mismanagement:
Mr. Hassett, attempting to illustrate the pain caused by the shutdown, said on Tuesday that one of his furloughed staff members had begun driving for Uber to make ends meet.
The Times couches all this info in a big, serious argument that the shutdown is going to actually impede economic growth—fucking up all the numbers that economists and guys in the government who aren’t furloughed right now care a lot about:
Mr. Hassett said on Tuesday that the administration now calculates that the shutdown reduces quarterly economic growth by 0.13 percentage points for every week that it lasts — the cumulative effect of lost work from contractors and furloughed federal employees who are not getting paid and who are investing and spending less as a result. That means that the economy has already lost nearly half a percentage point of growth from the four-week shutdown.
The shutdown “is threatening to derail this economic expansion,” Bernard Baumohl, the chief global economist for the Economic Outlook Group, said in a research note on Tuesday. Its effect on federal workers’ spending plans is particularly worrisome for the automotive and housing markets, which were already showing signs of trouble before the shutdown, he said.
For hundreds of thousands of everyday people, the damage is already done. You could try telling a TSA screener that their missing paycheck is going “reduce quarterly economic growth” and they’d be well within their rights to tell you to fuck off, because it’s also reducing the chance that they can afford gas to drive home that night. Federal jobs are supposed to be a way for millions of working-class people to build a life with good benefits and a sense of security about the future while helping the government that runs our country serve its citizens. Instead, they’re scrambling to make do, picking up shifts on Uber and rationing their supplies of insulin while the President retweets articles that say they’re all lazy assholes. And still, there is no end in sight.