This evening on the PBS Newshour, the chair of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisors, Kevin Hassett, said this about workers who are going without pay as the government shutdown nears its fourth week:
Right now about 25% of government workers are furloughed. Which means that they are not allowed to go to work.
But then when the shutdown ends, they go back to work, and they get their back pay.
A huge share of government workers were going to take vacation days, say between Christmas and New Year’s.
And then we have a shutdown, and so they can’t go to work. So then they have the vacation, but they don’t have to use their vacation days. And then they come back, and they get their back pay.
Then in some sense they’re better off.
You can see it for yourself, in Hassett’s talk with PBS’s Paul Solman, starting at time 4:20 of this clip.
I spent enough time in grad-school economics courses to understand the utility-maximization “logic” Hassett is applying. (“Let’s see, the workers are getting all that free time over the holidays, and they still have vacation days in the bank, so overall they come out ahead!”) And in fairness to Hassett, he was talking about the roughly half of furloughed federal workers who are instructed to stay home and not work — rather than the air traffic controllers, TSA screeners, etc, who are told to show up and worry about their pay some other time.
But I have spent enough time in the world to imagine how this will sound to people who have no idea when their regular pay will resume, whose lives and plans are being upended for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with their own performance and competence, and who do not consider themselves in any sense “better off.”