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Monday, September 30, 2013

Four Ways the Government Shutdown Will Affect Me (and Why You Should Care)

I am an employee of the federal government and, as such, on the verge of being laid off (or, if you want to play the government lingo game of trying to couch excruciating experiences with nonsensical words- sequestered or furloughed).
Depending on which news channel you happened to fall asleep in front of, this is either all the fault of the republicans (those money grubbing, free healthcare hating dinosaurs) or the democrats (those liberal, pot smoking hippies intent on bankrupting America all in the name of  pushing socialism on the country).
Either way, the one thing that is patently clear--both sides either have no clear understanding of how this will really impact the people who voted them into office in the first place, or they simply don't care (although, to be fair, it's difficult to care passionately about something and read Dr. Seuss at the same time. Scientific fact.). Obviously, I can't speak for every federal worker out there, but I'm guessing we share some commonalities. So, in keeping with the tone of this blog, I'm going to keep this me-centered and let you know how the government shutdown will affect me.
1. For the first time in my life, my bills may not get paid.
Sure, I've occasionally missed a credit card payment or been late on the gas, but that had everything to do with my systematic filing system of stuffing important letters in between my couch cushions than with not actually being able to pay them. Nothing is going to get shut off (though I'm sure others may face that), but it's a huge blow to my pride. I'm the provider. At work, I may have a ton of responsibilities, but at home my job is simple--provide. And if I fail at that, I've essentially failed at my whole job description. And unlike work where I could probably be replaced with a stapler and no one would notice, people are actually counting on me at home. Little people who shouldn't have to hear their parents discuss financial issues ever.
How the government offered to help- A letter will be provided to our creditors letting them know of the government shutdown (because apparently all creditors live in dank, windowless basements where they count their money by a dimly lit light bulb hanging from the ceiling and have no contact with the outside world). This letter follows the 'note from mom theory' that a child can pretty much get out of anything as long as he has a letter from home. This letter, unfortunately, will not be green and it most certainly will not contain a picture of a dead president on it. As a result, I may have to...
2. Get a part-time job.
In order to keep up with the bills (those things don't stop, you know) and to pay for other impending things like, oh I don't know, Hanukah and birthdays, I may need to take on a second job and that second job is probably going to be a minimum wage position seeing as how they're the only ones really willing to take on a new worker with the expectation that they'll be gone before the lunch rush. Or I could just participate in medical testing. Either way, I'm game. I can only dwell on my hurt pride for so long before I just do whatever the hell I have to do in order to provide for my family, up to and including taking hormone-unbalancing experimental drugs from Mexico while running on a treadmill. But unfortunately, that is not an option...
How the government offered to help- by pretty much prohibiting any federal employee from taking on outside work. In other words, not only isn't the government not going to be paying federal workers, they want to make sure we're not getting money from anywhere else. Fun fact: did you know that having a good credit rating is essential to obtaining federal employment?
3. I will not eat out. I will not splurge on funny t-shirts from ThinkGeek.com
The shutdown is going to force me to cut out all unnecessary spending (i.e., anything not related to eating or pooping). This means those shoes I have that absorb any liquid it comes into contact with will have to last another six months. I might splurge on duct tape, but that's about it.
I'm also not going to take the kids to the movies, or the toy store, or the local fair which just breezed into town, or do a million other things that go a long way to improving my family’s quality of life, but absolutely nothing for keeping my children alive.
Now multiply that reduced spending times 800,000. The shut-down will dramatically affect businesses that cater to government and government workers--this includes everyone from local restaurant owners, government contractors, to just about any retail store that a government worker walks into it. The pinch will be felt across the board.
How the government offered to help- by publishing a list of public services that would be closed or limited. No one gives a flying fuck if the Smithsonian isn't open on Sundays. We haven’t been able to barter with old whale bones in over 5000 years. They need to revise their list and include the long list of merchants who are getting reamed by proxy through this. Mark my words, I will get out of this with a few dings to my credit score, but other people will not be so lucky. Businesses will close.
Someone should buy the senate a damned calculator (you can have mine for a measly $10,000) so they can see just how economical this shutdown really is. But then it really isn't about saving money, is it? It's about pushing party lines and fucking the other guy.
4. My motivation is gone.
I joined the federal government fairly recently after a career of working as a contractor within the federal space. I finally made the jump for a number of reasons: security and benefits being the primary factor, but also because I wanted to affect change. As a contractor, there were always barriers to pushing change through, but those were gone when I began suckling at the government teat (enjoy that visual). As a result, I came in to my new position hungry and anxious to make a difference. I work hard. I am, in short, the exception to the rule when it comes to typical government workers.
I work in an older agency--for the most part, you'll find people who are simply biding their time until retirement. It's not unusual to see people conked out at their desks, in meetings, or in their car on the way to work. I assumed this attitude was just due to fatigue from being older than Methuselah (I doubt they would have been hired if they were that useless to being with). But now I'm beginning to wonder if it's simply just as a result of having weathered too much crap like this.
All of the reasons I first joined the government are being yanked out from under me overnight. Sure, there's been plenty of hints as to what's going to happen but I'm not going to find out if I still have a job until tomorrow morning. And then I get to spend a half day of closing shit out before I'm sent home. Gone is the stability. Gone is the benefits (especially if you consider getting paid a benefit), and gone is the desire to affect change. And it's probably going to take a long time to get that back. I can't imagine what this is doing to people who have been through this before.
How the government offered to help- early retirement was offered to tens of thousands of workers which is a classic example of the government's approach of getting rid of the symptoms without addressing the cause.

I’m hoping congress wakes up before they go off on fall break like a bunch of drunken college kids to Florida, but I’m doubtful. So while the Democrats are making donkey-comparisons to their junk and doing keg-stands in the corner and the Republicans are shaking their heads in mock disgust while still collecting a paycheck, the rest of us will be left how to figure out how to get through this. And we will. Just a little less trusting that our leaders have the ability to lead us.