Today, some 800,000 federal workers were forced to take unpaid leave. They are on furlough until Congress passes a bill to fund the government. This shutdown could last a couple of days. Or a week. Or a month. Or even longer.
We can only imagine how the government shutdown will affect government workers and their families, who will need to survive on no paycheck for an indefinite amount of time. You would need to slash your expenses; you would need to stop eating out and shopping for anything non-essential. Any plans for big-ticket purchases – like a new refrigerator or new car – are certainly on hold for now.
Thousands of workers in North Carolina must face these decisions today. The shutdown has closed the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences facilities in the Research Triangle Park.
But many people across the state who don’t work for the government will also feel the effects of the shutdown. The Cape Hatteras National Seashore had to close down yesterday, the first day of striped fishing season, and its closure “could have the same effect on the Outer Banks’ fall tourism season as a major hurricane.” On the western side of the state, all of the visitor centers, campgrounds, and picnic areas of the Blue Ridge Parkways and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park have closed – just in time for the fall leaf season.
These closures mean that the many business owners who rely on tourist dollars will be in a situation similar to that of the furloughed federal employees. They’ll need to decide between laying off workers and reducing spending on supplies– which means that their workers will hold back on their spending.
There’s more. The numbers fail to account for “the loans that the Small Business Administration will stop making, the permits that the Environmental Protection Agency won’t issue, the contracts that will be put on hold, and the nutrition assistance for infants and mothers that won’t go out.”
All of this work that won’t get done will act as a sucker-punch to the jaw of an economy that’s still struggling to stay on its feet. The economists at Moody’s Analytics say a three- or four-week shutdown could cost the American economy $55 billion. What will that do to the 14.3% of Americans who are either unemployed or underemployed? It certainly doesn’t improve their chances of finding a new or better job.
It’s ironic that lawmakers who promised just last year to improve the job market caused all of this mayhem. But the even bigger irony is that some Republicans in Congress brought on this government shutdown because they hope to kill the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacara – which is almost entirely unaffected by the shutdown. The health care exchanges opened as planned yesterday, and millions of Americans, including many with pre-existing conditions, got to shop for affordable health insurance for the first time.
So in the same week, we have two examples of what government can do for its people – make sure they have much-needed access to healthcare and, on the other hand, reduce job opportunities for millions of people just trying to support their families. That’s one heavy civics lesson.