Two weeks ago, following the longest government shutdown in U.S history, hundreds of thousands of federal employees and contractors headed back to work after going 35 days without pay. For some employees relief will come in the form of a paycheck and back pay, however, many federal contractors (almost 2 million of whom earn less than $12 an hour) may not get paid for the days they lost.
This latest government shutdown brings to the forefront what so many American workers feel everyday, even some of those who are in the middle or upper middle class. Too many among us are just a missed paycheck or two from financial catastrophe.
The devastating effects of disrupted income were felt by most federal workers, but were even more painful for the nearly half of federal workers who are sole earners, and the close to 40% who have children. Financial hardship is also experienced by Black and Latino workers who make up nearly 20% and 9% of the federal workforce, respectively, and are often on the low end of the government pay scale.
Some workers took to Twitter under the #shutdownstories hashtag to share their stories of hardship and strategies for survival during the furlough. We learned about their decisions to forgo doctor’s appointments, cut back on critical medication, skip meals, rely on food banks, launch GoFundMe campaigns to cover basic expenses, borrow money from friends and family, deplete savings, and dip into retirement accounts just to scrape by.
Yet these are not extraordinary measures — in fact, these strategies have become all too commonplace among everyday workers who experience an economic shock due to an employer suddenly changing or cutting shifts or hours, or unexpected layoffs.
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