Read: The longest shutdown in history reaches a breaking point
For one, the shutdown is not a minor event for the dozens of communities with large proportions of federal workers or with a large number of businesses that rely on federal contracts. This is crystal clear in Donald Trump, Ross, and Kudlow’s temporary hometown. Everywhere you go in Washington, you see a miniature recession. The blocks surrounding the Mall, filled with half-shuttered federal buildings and empty cafés and darkened museums, are in a recession. Office parks in Reston, Virginia, are in a recession. “Roughly 7 percent of the daily economy is at risk” in the Washington region, said Stephen Fuller, an economist at George Mason University. “It is having an effect that cannot be made up and can be measured.”
The economic pain is diffuse, as well as acute. The federal government is so big, its reach so vast, its spending so extensive, that the shutdown is slowing down thousands of communities and business sectors a little bit as it also slows down a few of them a lot. “It does affect every single sector,” Fuller said. “Farmers are feeling it a little. The airline industry is feeling it a little. It begins to look like an interest-rate increase or some other financial change that makes the economy grow more slowly, since such a broad range of services and contracts get curtailed.”
The Trump administration has also egregiously underplayed how painful the shutdown is for the 800,000 affected workers. Ross suggested that they should take out loans to keep their consumption up. “The obligations that they would undertake, say borrowing from a bank or a credit union, are in effect federally guaranteed,” he said. “The 30 days of pay that some people will be out? There’s no real reason why they shouldn’t be able to get a loan against it.” Other parts of Trump’s government have advised workers to get temporary jobs, such as driving for Uber, or to negotiate with their landlords and creditors.
Read: Trump’s “down-payment” trick
But gig jobs are not snap-your-fingers quick to get, nor do they tend to provide anything like a steady federal paycheck. Nor are loans a necessarily easy-to-secure and low-cost option, particularly not for the 14 percent of affected workers earning less than $50,000 a year. TSA agents and executive-branch administrative assistants are not likely to be taking out zero-interest loans from their parents, or low-interest collateralized loans from a major bank. More likely, they are putting groceries on their credit cards, taking penalties to withdraw from their retirement accounts, and heading to the local payday lender.
There is no hard data on the ways federal workers are managing their month-and-counting without pay, at least not yet. But food banks are reporting increased demand. Unions are reporting widespread hardship among their members. Federal workers are suing the Trump administration. GoFundMe and similar sites are filled with fundraisers for workers in need of help to keep the lights on and the rent paid. Evictions, repossessed cars, lower credit scores, smaller savings accounts—these are some of the inevitable results of the shutdown.