Venkata: The bottom line of government shutdowns

American workers should be prioritized — they currently aren’t.

by Uma Venkata

The federal government has been shut down since December 22, 2018. There’s a fairly cut-and-dry way to think about how we got here. 

During the 2018 midterms, we elected a Democratic-majority House of Representatives and Republican-majority Senate. This put the executive and legislative branches more at odds than they were before, with Republican majority in both chambers and a Republican-controlled White House. President Donald Trump is trying to pull through with his campaign promise to build a physical wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, asking for $5.7 billion. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-California, have had more than one public display of discord with the president about the shutdown, which always boils down to the border wall. Flexing on both sides, if you will. Most Democrats on the hill oppose the wall on principle. While Washington has been stalled at the $5.7-billion impasse, the American economy has contracted by much more. As of Jan. 18, federal revenue has lost $23 billion in growth, according to independent analysts.

When shutdowns happen — over budgeting power, abortion funding, tax cuts, Obamacare, among others — it occurs on government’s stress fractures along ideological lines. But, as many of us have, we must step back and look at who feels the most pain from the break: those employed federally or who rely on government assistance. Seventy-eight percent of American workers live paycheck-to-paycheck, according to a survey from CareerBuilder. Of course, not all of them work for the government.

Eight hundred thousand federal employees are working unpaid or furloughed, each averaging $5,000 in missing wages. That hurts them — not the people making the executive decisions.

Things compound when you don’t have money. It’s expensive to be poor. Essentials need to be covered, and that’s difficult when you have no savings — like more than 25 percent of Americans who don’t set aside savings each month. Rent, utilities, groceries, childcare — God forbid, medical bills — are things that can’t be put off. If they are, that means debt, which becomes a vicious cycle in the blink of an eye. Around 75 percent of American workers currently report to be in debt, and more than 50 percent of them believe they will never come out. The underworld of creditors and their abuses of power makes up a tome of its own.

Maybe the only thing that ultimately matters is the wall, because whatever compromise we may be so lucky to get will hinge on that. My bottom line is that whatever we do, it must be in the greatest favor to American citizens. But thousands upon thousands of them are suffering over a disagreement that, if the White House gets its original way, takes away much more from them than it gives back. We’re almost used to shutdowns by now, but it doesn’t have to be like this. Lately, politicians don’t tend to compromise, but that’s a habit we can’t afford not to break. United we stand, every American must be able to stand.