Federal workers begin to feel pain of shutdown as 800,000 lose their paychecks

President Donald Trump wants US$5.7 billion to fund a border wall to keep out undocumented immigrants and “criminals.” Democrats in Congress say the wall is a waste of money that wouldn’t solve any of America’s actual immigration programs.

Caught between the two sides are about 800,000 federal workers whose agencies are affected by the partial government shutdown. And although it started about three weeks ago, Jan. 11 marks a significant milestone: It’s the first time affected workers won’t get their paychecks.

As a researcher who studies people’s wealth, I understand that while the loss of a single paycheck may not seem like much, for many American families it can be devastating financially.

The federal workforce

Overall, the federal government directly employs over 2 million people.

Most of them work for departments such as Defense, Education and Labor that remain open because Congress passed spending bills fully funding what they do. About a quarter of the federal government – including the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice and Agriculture – has no new funding, leaving 800,000 workers in the lurch.

About 380,000 have been furloughed without pay, while 420,000 are deemed essential and have to report for work. However, these essential workers are not being paid either.

And on Jan. 11, they’ll feel the impact of that lost pay.

Government workers protest the shutdown in Ogden, Utah. AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

Hand to mouth

So what’s the big deal if these workers don’t get a single paycheck?

The problem is many Americans both in and out of government live paycheck to paycheck. Estimates range anywhere from one-third to more than three-quarters make ends meet every two weeks.

No matter which figure is right, it means that many American families cannot financially survive for long without earning money. And a significant share don’t have enough money to absorb even a $1,000 emergency expense – let alone a prolonged period of time without a paycheck.