Federal workers and contractors are growing increasingly weary with the partial government shutdown as they begin to feel the financial squeeze, leading many to reconsider government work.
Last Friday, many federal workers missed their first paychecks since the shutdown began on December 22 overÂ demands from President Donald Trump that Congress fund a $5 billion wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. On Saturday, the shutdown became the longest in U.S. history, currently stretching into its fourth week, at 26 days.
ThinkProgress spoke with federal workers and contractors whoÂ are making tough choices about whether or not to look for other jobs, or stay in the federal government even if they are able to get back to work soon. The employees quoted in this story asked not to be identified by their actual names out of fear of retaliation.
âIt has just been a nightmareâ
Drew, a federal worker within the Department of Agriculture, said the shutdown is particularly difficult for them as theyâre in their 20s and in the beginning of their career. When asked what theyâre doing to stay afloat financially, Drew said theyâre not going anywhere or doing anything that requires spending money. They have cancelled any unnecessary regular spending.
âI covered bills for this month but itâs a question of next month of whether I will be able to make it because I do unfortunately live paycheck-to-paycheck and my savings are rather limited,â Drew said. âItâs been terrible for my economic situation. Itâs been terrible for my personal life. It has just been a nightmare.âÂ
A 2017 CareerBuilder report that polledÂ 2,000 managers and more than 3,000 full-time employees found that 78 percent of full-time workers said they lived paycheck to paycheck. Drew added that itâs particularly tough that they canât help cover expenses for their group house, which affects everyone else they live with.
Anne, a contractor who works with the Bureau of Lands Management, has started filing for unemployment. Contractors did not receive backpay during the 2013 shutdown and it isnât expected that they will receive backpay after this one, unlike federal workers. Even the process of filing for unemployment reminded her that she isnât considered as affected by the shutdown as federal workers. One of the questions she had to answer was whether she was a federal employee affected by the shutdown, but since sheâs a contractor she was told to answer that she had been laid off due to lack of work.
âWe have to be careful and not spend money, or make trips, or eat out, or go to movies as much, but I have some coworkers who are a lot more worried. They have kids, and in some cases supporting their entire family,â she said. âWe have some savings, enough to cover me for probably a month, but if not, Iâll join up with some of my other coworkers and start looking for another job, which sucks but I am not there yet.â
Drew and Lee, a federal worker at the Department of Housing and Urban Development,Â said that they believe the shutdown may result in a wave of federal workers leaving their government jobs.
âI think most workers on the federal level think if we stick around long enough [President Trump] will be out of office and this whole thing will blow over and I am seriously reconsidering that approach,â Drew said. âI think everyone I know has been trying to stay there to be a force of good or consistency in whatever agency theyâre working for and a month-long period to reconsider what youâre doing with your life and your place in the federal government is more than enough to make some people feel like they want to seriously change their mind.â
Drew said they think a lot of people who have worked for the government for a decade or longer will either leave through early retirement or by changing jobs. They added that a lot of people have already started looking for new jobs, which means the government could lose considerable talent and consistency in agencies.
Lee said the administration has been âhostileâ to government workers since it began.
âThereâs already a Baby Boomer brain drain and retirements in federal government due to Clinton and Bush administration hiring freezes,â Lee said. âThis will just expedite that.â
Workers blame Trump and Republicans
Most of the federal workers and contractors who spoke with ThinkProgress said they put at least some of the blame on Trump, as well as Republican members of Congress. A majority of Americans share their views. According to a CNN poll conducted by SSRS, aÂ market andÂ surveyÂ research firm, 55 percent of peopleÂ surveyed said Trump is more to blame for the shutdown than Congressional Democrats. President Trumpâs approval rating has also dipped five points since last month.
âIâd put the blame 90 percent on Trump because his leadership is not good,â Anne said. âHeâs not playing the game well. Heâs drawing a line in the sand and he is not willing to cross it. Heâs not even negotiating at this point. Thatâs what politics is about itâs about negotiation and heâs not doing that. Heâs failing.â
Lee, a federal worker at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, is worried that the media coverage has been centered only on House Democrats and the president.
âThereâs an entire other legislative body. People should be pressuring [Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)] to at least let the Senate vote up or down,â he said.
Drew said the blame should be shared by President Trump and Republicans in Congress.Â
âThis could have been avoided by the Congress that was leaving and they could have negotiated something earlier on when they had a full Republican house and Senate. Something could have gone through,â they said. âI assign blame for wall funding and wall funding was a tactic used by Trump to explain a very complicated issue. It has blown itself up into this one issue he has overwhelming support on and he is trying to stay behind it and itâs just not working.â
Most of the workers and contractors who spoke to ThinkProgress said they felt their communities were aware of how the shutdown affected workers, but when Anne visited family in New York for the holidays, she said they didnât seem aware that she wouldnât get paid.
âThey were like, âoh yeah youâre going to get paid right?â So I had to explain that a lot. Like, âno Iâm not getting backpay,’â she said.
Her grandfather, who is conservative, appeared to feel differently about the shutdown once he knew how it would affect her, she said.
âHe was like, âOh who cares, shut it down.â But when I explained to him how I was affected, he got kind of quiet and didnât say anything. By the time we had to say goodbye, he said, âI hope you get back to work soon.â So I think the awareness is not great, but itâs definitely growing.â
Lee said a conservative family member âchanged his mind about the Republican Partyâ after the 2013 shutdown.
Workers say they are also exasperated that they are unable to continue projects that would benefit Americans, particularly marginalized groups. Anne noted that the Bureau of Land Management has recreational land that they are unable to keep safe and clean. Migration corridors, which maintain wildlife populations, for instance, are going to be delayed. Drew said that the USDA is unable to follow up with organizations on grant work, while Lee expressed concern about how people served by HUD will be affected by the shutdown.
âI have fielded a call from resident in HUDâs housing choice voucher program that needed a reasonable accommodation due to her disability,â Lee said. âHer housing authority wasnât accepting her medical documentation and I needed colleagues in the field to help her file her fair housing complaint and potentially reach out to the housing authority to resolve the issue informally.â
He added, âSheâs probably homeless right now.â
This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on January 16, 2019. Reprinted with permission.Â
About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress covering economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits.