The Government Shut Down My Job: How 3 Employees Are Spending Their Time Off

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shutdown-lockdown-open-artIllustrated by Ly Ngo.
What do you do with an unpaid, extended leave from work when the whole country has an opinion about it? We asked three government employees, whose lives have been upended by the shutdown, how they're spending their sudden (and forced) vacations. Think lots of daytime TV and deep-breathing exercises.
govt_lockdown_slide_1Illustrated by Ly Ngo.


Lee, 36, employee and labor relations specialist and personnel security specialist, Washington D.C.

How are you spending the shutdown?
"I'm bored. I'm at home watching TV. I'm doing an MBA program and doing schoolwork. There's a pile of work on my desk that I was unable to touch because of the shutdown, which is frustrating. I spend a lot of time watching the news, and I'm definitely sleeping in. "

Are you worried about making ends meet?
"I worried about making ends meet because I'm not getting paid, and using my only savings left for October bills. Anything past November, I will not be able to pay. Come the end of October, I don't know what I'm going to do. And if they do refund us [our lost wages], I don't know when we're going to be receiving that. A lot of my friends are in a similar situation and are annoyed because they've had all year to figure this out, and we feel like they're using us as pawns."

It all sounds pretty stressful.
"I'm a little stressed right now. I'm trying not to worry, but if we don't get paid for another two weeks, I'm gonna be more than stressed. I feel a lot of frustration, because this could have been solved a long time ago."

govt_lockdown_slide_2Illustrated by Ly Ngo.

Bonnie, 30-something, environmental officer with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Los Angeles

How are you spending the shutdown?
"I’m spending more time with my family, volunteering and trying to do the things you always wish you had more time to do. That being said, many of the things I would do, like taking a class or buying a laptop (to replace one that was stolen) involves spending money. I’m actively trying not to spend money, since it is unclear how long this shutdown will last. It's a complicated and isolated feeling. I feel guilty in some ways to not be enjoying this time, which others perceive as vacation, and simultaneously anxious about the uncertainty of it."

Are you worried about making ends meet? 
"I am. I have been trying to squirrel away and save money the past few years. This shutdown will eat into the savings I was hoping to put toward a down payment for an apartment or for medical procedures that were not completely covered. I am more fortunate than some of my colleagues, and the people we serve, in that I currently don't have many mouths to feed or a mortgage to pay."

What do you think the outcome will be?
"I don’t have a crystal ball. The current system is already divided enough, and the longer the shutdown continues, the more there will be clamoring to pit certain agencies and needs against others. What I believe Congress needs to do is pass a 'clean' CR to keep funding the government and not allow government workers to be used as pawns in this feud."

govt_lockdown_slide_3Illustrated by Ly Ngo.


Pete, 33, Forest Service, Northern California

How are you spending the shutdown?
"So far, we have been spending the shutdown doing household chores and checking in on the news constantly. I cut wood for fuel yesterday, since a wood stove is our main source of heat. Our first thought was not to use the gas heat unnecessarily because of the cost. We are discussing finding part-time work if this goes on for longer than a week, since we have a mortgage, car payment, and student loans to pay."

Are you worried about making ends meet?
"We are, especially if this goes on for more than a couple of days. My expectation is that this may actually last for a couple of weeks, and that we might not be retroactively paid. This will be a huge financial burden on us, since my wife and I are both in the same boat. Right now we are preparing for the worst, living extremely frugally, and discussing which expenses to eliminate."

What's the hardest part for you?
"Not knowing how long it will last. I am hopeful that we could go back to work any day, but at the same time, it seems like this could go on for a while, maybe until after the debt-ceiling fight is resolved. It is very disconcerting to have a full-time, permanent job, and then to wake up unemployed, through no fault of your own. Employment stability was a big reason we were each attracted to working for the federal government. We're also stressed about the work that's not getting done, because we're sitting around at home instead. We'd rather be working."