President Donald Trump has suggested his shutdown could last “for months or even a year or longer” due to his insistence on extorting taxpayer money for a border wall that the American public overwhelmingly opposes—one that he swore Mexico would pay for. The new Democratic House majority passed legislation to reopen the government, but there is no indication that the Republican-controlled Senate will agree to end this impasse soon. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has voiced his refusal to bring legislation to reopen the government to the Senate floor despite the fact that the chamber passed a similar deal unanimously just three weeks ago.
Trump’s failure thus far to get his border wall may have bruised his ego, but for federal workers and their families, this conflict has triggered serious economic uncertainty. Because of the shutdown, nearly 800,000 federal workers have either been furloughed from their jobs without pay or been required to stay on the job without pay. As the shutdown drags into its third week, federal employees across the country are missing out on more than $2 billion in total for each pay period that they go without a paycheck. Just one week ago, Trump effectively gave federal employees a pay cut by cancelling an annual cost of living adjustment for 2019. Now, many of those workers are not being paid at all.
Federal employees have generally received backpay after previous government shutdowns ended. But employees of federal contractors—typically low-wage roles—are much less likely to receive backpay. This means that these workers will not only suffer financial stress but also permanent monetary losses.
Trump’s anger regarding the wall and the Senate’s acquiescence to the president threatens to inflict damage on the nation’s economy. By the White House’s own estimate, this shutdown will likely reduce quarterly U.S. GDP by 0.26 percent every two weeks that it continues. Since first-quarter GDP is projected to be roughly $5 trillion, Trump’s shutdown will cost the U.S. economy $13 billion in lost output every two weeks it continues based on the administration’s own impact estimate. That’s $6.5 billion per week, $929 million per day, or $39 million per hour.*
As Trump continues to rationalize his shutdown by stoking fear, he is harming the very people who protect this country, including employees of the Drug Enforcement Agency, FBI, Transportation Security Administration, the U.S. Coast Guard, and other important agencies. Even the Secret Service agents protecting President Trump himself are not being paid during the shutdown.
President Trump and his enablers in Congress should reopen the government immediately and stop penalizing federal workers and their families for the sake of the president’s ego.
Saharra Griffin and Galen Hendricks are special assistants at the Center for American Progress.
Authors’ notes on estimates: The total number of employees for each agency is from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) FedScope June 2018 data, available at https://www.fedscope.opm.gov. Totals include employees of agencies funded by the seven appropriations bills that have not been enacted: agriculture; commerce, justice, science; financial services and general government; homeland security; interior; state, foreign operations (except that the State Department is excluded due to data limitations); transportation; and housing and urban development. These estimates exclude employees of agencies or subagencies whose funding will not lapse because they are financed by sources other than annual appropriations and the number of employees that agencies have identified as exempt in shutdown contingency plans. Total pay is estimated by multiplying the number of employees estimated to be furloughed or working without pay in each agency by the average salary for that agency according to FedScope data. (We did not attempt to adjust for the fact that the average salary might differ for exempt employees.)
*Update, January 16, 2019: This column has been updated to reflect new White House estimates of the shutdown’s economic impact.