D.C. has a lot of federal workers. A government shutdown would have big impacts

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On Thursday, a stoplight was visible in front of Washington, D.C.’s dome. The government is informing workers about an impending shutdown, which could result in millions of federal and military employees being sent home or working for no pay.

Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images


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Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

A stoplight can be seen on the U.S. Capitol dome in Washington, D.C., Thursday. The government is informing workers about an impending shutdown, which could result in millions of federal and military employees being sent home or working for no pay.

Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

All eyes are on Capitol Hill as Congress moves closer and closer towards failing to fund federal government funding, forcing a shut down. Shutting down the federal government would have a major impact on the entire country, and could also have significant implications for those who live in the nation’s capitol and those who work there. Washington, D.C. and Maryland, as well as Virginia, have a combined population of about 400,000 federal employees, along with hundreds of thousands military personnel and government contractors. Growth and competitiveness in the region have been closely tied to federal government for many years. Shutdowns can have a major impact on the local economy. They affect small businesses, tourism and the social safety net. These effects tend to worsen as shutdowns become longer. While there is a concentration of federal workers in the D.C. area, federal workers are spread out across the nation, so similar questions regarding the economic and sociological effects of the shutdown apply nationwide. The federal government employs approximately 2 million civilians and 1.4 million military personnel. Read on to find answers to all your questions regarding the shutdown and its impact on federal employees. What is the impact of this shutdown on the D.C. area economy? According to Terry Clower of George Mason University, it all depends on how long the shutdown will last. Clower said that if the shutdown lasts only a few weeks and is merely political theater, there won’t be a significant impact on the economy. If it drags on, there are cascading effects. “I expect regular families to start having real problems in the next week or two in our area,” Clower said. The sidewalks of Downtown D.C. and the lunch spots there are quiet, partly because federal workers continue to work remotely despite the pressures from the Biden Administration to return to their offices. Clower explains that “What we see in the data is the federal workers aren’t going downtown, but they haven’t stopped eating out


“. They’re probably doing things in suburban markets or close to home. It’s still a big loss. “

And regardless of whether they’re working in-person or remotely, federal workers in D.C. and the suburbs may need to tighten their spending, something that could mean an added challenge for local businesses already reeling from the pandemic.

“That’s a lot of purchasing power you’re pulling out of the economy,” Clower said.

What can we learn from recent history about how past shutdowns impacted the D.C. region? In the 2018-2019 partial shutdown, the D.C. region lost $1.6 billion of economic activity during the majority of the closure. The economic impact was felt for a long time. Some wages were eventually paid back, but it still had a lasting effect. The D.C. government was forced to intervene to remove the garbage that had accumulated on the Mall.

During a partial shutdown of the government, a trashcan overflowed in this photo. The D.C. Government cleaned up the overflowing garbage in the area controlled by the Department. Interior Department as National Park Land.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP

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Jacquelyn Martin/AP

In this photo taken during the partial shutdown of the government, people are sitting outside a trashcan that is overflowing. The D.C. Government cleaned up the overflowing garbage in the area controlled by the Department. Interior as National Park Land.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP

And those impacts were the result of a

partial

government shutdown, not a full one, because Congress had already passed some spending bills by the time the closure happened. This included funding for the Department of Defense which represents about 12% of federal spending. This year, Congress still has not passed any appropriations legislation, which means that the federal government will be shut down. Last time this happened, the shutdown lasted 16 days in 2013. According to some estimates, the D.C. area lost $220,000,000 in economic activity each day. The fact that congressional disruptions can affect defense spending is important in the D.C. area, especially in Virginia. Virginia receives the most federal defense funding per capita. The Pentagon is located in Arlington, Va. and Northern Virginia has many government agencies and defense contractors involved with national security. In the Hampton Roads region, 15 military bases are located, including Naval Station Norfolk – the largest naval base on earth. According to one estimate, federal defense funding directly or indirectly supports almost 900,000. This will affect federal employees in a major way?

Government departments have a tried-and-true response when Congress withholds funding: They each develop a plan on how to react when the money stops flowing. They determine which work (and which workers) are “essential” for the everyday functioning of the country, and which ones are “non-essential.”

This file photo shows people waiting in a TSA queue at the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on June 28, 2022. TSA workers and air traffic control operators, both part of the Federal Aviation Administration, would be considered essential workers in a government shutdown and continue to work without pay.
[or other economic activities]

Julia Nikhinson/AP

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Julia Nikhinson/AP

In the photo below, people are waiting in a TSA queue at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on June 28, 2022. TSA and airtraffic controllers, as part of the Federal Aviation Administration, would both be considered “essential workers” and continue to work without pay during a government shutdown.

Julia Nikhinson/AP

“Essential employees” — border patrol guards and TSA agents as well as active-duty military personnel, national security personnel, etc. — are expected at work but do not receive a paycheque. Furloughs are imposed on “non-essential employees” until the shutdown is over. In D.C. there are many white-collar workers who are well paid, but the majority of government employees are low-wage earners. It’s difficult to survive in D.C. without a paycheck that arrives on time. Rent and mortgage payments are behind and people struggle to pay for medicine and food. During previous shutdowns, there were long lines at food pantries and local unemployment offices.

Washington Louis sorts cans of food at the LifeNet4Families food pantry in Fort Lauderdale on Friday.

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Washington Louis sorting through cans of food at the LifeNet4Families food pantry in Fort Lauderdale on Friday.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Even if the shutdown ends quickly, the fact Congress is becoming more accustomed to shutting down has grave consequences for the federal governments reputation as an employer. Clower explained that the federal agencies have been struggling for a few years to recruit workers, particularly in the D.C. area because of high living costs compared with federal wage scales.


“It’s been hard for a few years now for the federal agencies to attract workers, particularly in the D.C. area, because the cost of living is very high compared to federal wage scales,” Clower explained.

“If we’re going to have this series of political events where, just for show, we’re going to shut down the government for a period of time, somebody’s thinking, ‘Hang on a second, why do I want to mess with that? “If we’re going to have this series of political events where, just for show, we’re going to shut down the government for a period of time, somebody is thinking – ‘Hang on a second. Why do I want that? Some will, others won’t. It’s a new thing that federal workers will receive back pay at some point. Congress passed a law in 2019 that guarantees that furloughed workers or those who are essential will receive their back pay “as quickly as possible” after the end of the budget lapse. This law was passed largely due to the financial impact the shutdown had on workers.

But, government contractors – who are even more numerous than direct government employees – don’t have this assurance. This is because government contractors are employed by companies that provide services to federal government and not the government. Some contractors earn a lot of money, as they work in consulting roles with large companies who do business with government. Many contractors, however, are low-wage employees, such as janitors in federal buildings, cafeteria staff, and security guards. Sometimes they’re even laid off. What kind of help do federal employees need during shutdownsIn previous years, local governments and social services in the D.C. area have stepped up to provide food, mortgage and rent assistance, as well as other assistance. It’s the same role that they played during the pandemic, creating networks of local agencies and nonprofits to respond to public needs. “We’re not in the same position as we were last year in terms of infrastructure,” said Jeff McKay. He is the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors of Fairfax County. Fairfax County has more than one million residents and is a suburb of Washington, D.C. McKay said that the local budgets were tight due to the ongoing recovery of COVID.