Federal employees received pay stubs with nothing but zeros on them Friday as the effects of the government shutdown hit home, deepening anxieties about mortgage payments and unpaid bills.
All told, an estimated 800,000 government workers missed their paychecks for the first time since the shutdown began.
Employees posted pictures of the pay statements on Twitter and vented their frustration as the standoff over President Donald Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion for a border wall entered its 21st day. This weekend, it will become the longest shutdown in U.S. history.
“I saw the zeros in my pay stub today, and it’s a combination of reality setting in and just sadness,” air traffic controller Josh Maria told The Associated Press after tweeting a screenshot of his paystub. “We’re America. We can do better than this.”
The missed paychecks were just one sign of the mounting toll the shutdown is taking on Americans’ daily lives. The Miami airport is closing a terminal this weekend because security screeners have been calling in sick at twice the normal rate. Homebuyers are experiencing delays in getting their loans.
Roughly 420,000 federal employees were deemed essential and are working unpaid. An additional 380,000 are staying home without pay. While furloughed federal workers have been given back pay in previous shutdowns, there is no guarantee that will happen this time.
Workers are turning to Uber, Lyft and other side gigs to pick up some money in the meantime.
Ellen Jackson, a Transportation Security Administration officer based in Las Vegas, is driving full time for a ride-share company to get by. The 59-year-old is planning to retire in April.
“I don’t want to borrow any money,” said Jackson, an Air Force veteran who said she makes about $38,000 a year as a TSA officer. “I don’t want to get into a deeper hole.”
Fellow Las Vegas-based TSA agent Julia Peters applied for food stamps on Thursday and was approved. She said five of the eight other applicants at the benefits office were also TSA workers.
In Falls Church, Virginia, outside Washington, a school district held a hiring fair for furloughed federal employees interested in working as substitute teachers.
Gerri French, who works for the Department of Agriculture’s Food Inspection Service and has been furloughed along with her husband, liked the sound of substitute teaching. “I think it’s a really great school system, and this would be a great opportunity,” French said.
Chris George, 48, of Hemet, California, has picked up work as a handyman, turned to a crowdfunding site to raise cash and started driving at Lyft after being furloughed from his job as a forestry technician supervisor for the U.S. Forest Service.
But the side gigs aren’t making much difference, and he has been trying to work with his mortgage company to avoid missing a payment.
“Here we are, Day 21, and all three parties cannot even negotiate like adults,” he said, describing government workers like him as “being pawns for an agenda of a wall. You’re not going to put a wall across the Rio Grande, I’m sorry.”
Economists at S&P Global said the shutdown has cost the U.S. economy $3.6 billion so far.
The typical federal employee makes $37 an hour, which translates into $1,480 a week, according to Labor Department data. That’s nearly $1.2 billion in lost pay each week, when multiplied by 800,000 federal workers.
Many workers live paycheck to paycheck, despite the strong economy and the ultra-low unemployment rate. A Federal Reserve survey in May found that 40 percent of Americans would have to borrow or sell something to make a $400 emergency payment.
Government workers are scaling back spending, canceling trips, applying for unemployment benefits and taking out loans to stay afloat.
Maria, based in Washington, was already in a financially precarious situation because of two cross-country moves in 2018 and the birth of a premature son. The shutdown has made matters much worse.
“I’m just not paying certain bills. Car payments are being delayed, which is going to put a hit on the credit,” he said. “Credit card payments are being delayed.”
Maria took out a personal loan last week just in case. Now he is pulling his 4-year-old daughter out of day care and telling his 7-year-old son he cannot sign up for extracurricular activities.
Most of the government workers received their last paycheck two weeks ago. Around the country, some workers are relying on donations, including launching GoFundMe campaigns. Food pantries have opened up in several locations.
First Oklahoma Bank in suburban Tulsa is waiving overdraft fees for customers who are federal employees.
In Denver, three-quarters of the people who visited the Food Bank of the Rockies’ mobile pantry on Friday were first-time visitors and furloughed federal employees, said Cait Barnett, a marketing specialist for the food bank.
In Massachusetts, a private group has stepped up to ensure that those working at local Coast Guard stations have food and clothing. Don Cox, president of the Massachusetts Military Support Foundation, said the nonprofit group has opened up centers at Coast Guard stations in Boston and Providence, Rhode Island.
The group is helping feed 500 to 600 families a day, about double the typical demand, Cox said.
“We’ve been doing this for 10 years. This is my fourth shutdown,” he said. “I wish the senators and the congressmen weren’t taking their paychecks. I’d feel a lot better then.”
Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado said she will not take her paycheck as long as federal workers are unpaid. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, another Colorado Democrat, said his staff will offer free breakfasts and lunches to unpaid federal workers at his district office in suburban Denver.