2019 Government Shutdown Impact Report

Thomas O'Shaughnessy's Photo
By Thomas O'Shaughnessy Updated March 6, 2023


2019 Government Shutdown Impact Report

The longest government shutdown in history may be over, but for the hundreds of thousands of Americans who were caught in the crossfire, the fallout is ongoing — and severe.

It’s been more than two weeks since U.S. lawmakers reached a temporary agreement to end the unprecedented 35-day standoff, but progress towards recovery has been painfully slow.

Just as the initial funding lapse caught many officials and agencies off guard, the restart has been similarly chaotic. Widespread confusion, computer glitches, and uncertainty about the future have impeded collective efforts to sort through the mess and regain operational composure.

As of February 11, thousands of federal employees were still waiting on checks for crucial back pay, many of whom hadn’t seen a dime since the shutdown began on January 22.

To make matters worse, President Trump’s February 15 deadline for a new deal is rapidly approaching, and those still struggling to cope and recover are understandably concerned.

According to our study, nearly 8 out of 10 federal workers believe there will be another shutdown. If they’re right, approximately one-third have indicated they won’t be able to support themselves for more than a few weeks without pay.

On February 1, Clever launched an eight-day survey of 500 federal employees to learn about the government shutdown’s impact on various aspects of their personal and financial well-being.

Initially, our primary interest was the shutdown’s effect on housing market trends — that is, whether or not it impeded the ability of federal workers to purchase real estate, sell your house, make mortgage payments, repair or renovate, save for retirement, etc.

However, the data we collected tells a much larger story than we initially expected, providing granular insights into a wide range of areas, from the shutdown’s impact on government workers’ sense of job security to their political leanings, spending habits, general state of financial well-being and preparedness, and more.

Here are a few of the key takeaways from the study.

Executive Summary

  • Federal workers are not optimistic about the future — 78% believe there will be another government shutdown.
  • 57% of federal workers say the shutdown negatively impacted their life. 23% say they would need to borrow money or dip into their savings after one to two weeks without pay.
  • During the shutdown, about one in three federal workers sought supplemental income through gig-economy work like Uber, Lyft, and online freelancing opportunities in order to make ends meet.
  • Approximately 35% of federal workers said the government shutdown affected their ability to save for or make a major life purchase. Of those respondents, 38% said they would need to put off buying a house.
  • 60% of federal workers said they had to cut back on groceries and other essentials as a direct result of the shutdown.
  • Many federal workers are fed up: 5% quit their jobs following the shutdown, 10% are actively looking for a new job, and 14% are thinking about looking for a new job.

Political Facts

  • 41% of respondents were Democrats, 30% were Republicans, and 29% identified as being affiliated with either another party or no party.
  • 63% of federal workers were not in favor of the border wall prior to the shutdown. Of the 37% who did support the wall prior to January 22, only 5% have since changed their stance.
  • Who’s responsible for the shutdown? 44% of federal workers say President Trump, 22% the Democrats, 5% the Republicans, and 25% say both parties are equally to blame.
  • Breaking that down granularly, 90% of Democratic federal workers blame the President for the shutdown, compared to 9% of those who identified as Republicans.
  • The data suggests the shutdown hit Democrats harder. They were 291% more likely to identify themselves as "very unprepared [financially]" for the shutdown than Republicans.

Demographic Facts

  • Surprisingly, millennials (ages 18 to 34) were actually 21% less likely than older federal workers to seek supplemental during the shutdown. Even more surprising, they were 83% less likely to take on online freelance work.
  • Male respondents were nearly 200% more likely than female respondents to say that the shutdown negatively impacted their ability to save for a house, car, college, marriage, or retirement.

Key Insights and Analysis

78% of Federal Workers Think There Will Be Another Shutdown

While many lawmakers have stated they’ll be doing everything in their power to avoid a repeat performance, it seems that federal workers are not convinced. An overwhelming majority (86%) believe there will be another shutdown in the near future.

But are their concerns justified? President Trump has set a high bar of $5.7 billion in funding — a number that, at this point, is all but guaranteed to not be met in the final agreement.

Recognizing this fact, some Republicans are adjusting their expectations. As Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.) recently said, "I want the highest possible number we can get, but I would hope it would be north of $2 [billion]."[2]

While many Democrats see their starting position for the argument over funding as $0, they’re struggling to keep funding for a wall below $1.6 billion, the amount allotted for border security and barriers in the Senate’s initial Department of Homeland Security (DHS) bill, which had bipartisan support.

Either way, the DHS funding bill’s spending cap is $49.1 billion, meaning that any additional spending on border security will eat into both parties’ other priorities. In other words, it’s in everyone’s best interest to keep the border wall budget under control.

Everyone, that is, except for President Trump, who isn’t renowned for making compromises.

45% of Federal Workers Can’t Go Four Weeks Without Pay

The situation in the House and the Senate is messy and uncertain, but it’s likely that federal workers’ pessimism may be drawing additional fuel from a general state of financial insecurity and anxiety.

23% of survey respondents said they would be able to go one to two weeks without pay before turning to credit cards or dipping into savings. 22% said they would be able to last about a month (two to four weeks)

But federal workers aren’t alone in their struggles. Our results are relatively consistent with recent data concerning financial stability and preparedness across the United States. A recent GoBankingRate study found that approximately 58% of Americans had less than $1,000 in savings — 73% had less than $5,000.[1]

16% of Federal Workers Missed a Mortgage or Rent Payment Because of the Shutdown

While a majority of federal workers said they were able to make their mortgage or rent payments (84%), many were still negatively impacted in this area.

More than 8% of respondents say they missed a mortgage payment and over 7% missed a rent payment — further evidence that many federal workers are living paycheck to paycheck.

36% of Federal Workers Had to Find Other Work During the Shutdown

39% of federal workers said they were either "unprepared" or "very unprepared" going into the shutdown. Unsurprisingly, about 36% of survey respondents said they had to supplement their income with one or more of the following types of work:

  • Uber or Lyft driving (7%)
  • A part-time job (8%)
  • A full-time job (8%)
  • Online freelance work (10%)
  • Miscellaneous odd jobs (14%)

The Shutdown Forced 34% of Federal Workers to Put Off a Major Life Purchase or Event

More than one in three survey respondents said that the government shutdown negatively impacted their ability to save for or make a major life purchase or event, such as buying a new home, getting married, and retirement.

Of those negatively impacted, the most common life purchases put on hold were buying a home (38%) or a new car (38%). Additionally, many federal workers said the shutdown negatively affected their ability to retire (31%), pay for themselves or a family member’s college tuition (23%), and get married (16%).

41% of Federal Workers Didn’t Have Adequate Funds to Get Through the Shutdown

Many federal workers didn’t have enough cash savings to get them through the shutdown. 41% of respondents either considered or resorted to options like:

  • Taking out a loan (17%)
  • Dipping into retirement savings (19%)
  • Applying for a new credit card (13%)
  • Borrowing from family and friends (22%)
  • Cashing out equity on a home or property (4%)
  • Using crowdfunding sites (3%)

Following the Shutdown, 25% of Federal Workers Are Considering New Jobs — 5% Quit

Historically, government jobs have been thought of as stable and safe, relative to the private sector. However, it seems that for some federal workers, the shutdown has shattered their sense of security. Many of them are either actively seeking or considering alternative employment opportunities.

Approximately 5% of respondents have either already quit their jobs or plan to do so in the near future; 10% said they were actively looking for new jobs; and nearly 15% said they were considering looking for a new job.

While only about 25% of the government was directly affected by the recent shutdown, that represents hundreds of thousands of employees and a number of key agencies and departments, including homeland security, commerce, agriculture, housing and urban development, justice, transportation, and more.

Another shutdown wouldn’t just disrupt the country in terms of limiting access to government-managed resources, services, and support — it could trigger a mass exodus of employees.

Federal workers looking for supplement income should consider becoming a flat fee or low commission real estate agent.

Only 5% of Federal Workers Changed Their Minds About the Border Wall

Approximately 60% of federal workers opposed the border wall before the government shutdown. Of the 40% who were in favor of the wall before the shutdown, only 5% have since changed their stance.

Despite the border wall being the primary cause of the shutdown — an event that 57% of respondents said negatively impacted them on a personal level — 95% of federal workers initially in favor of the wall have remained unwavering in their support.

Democrats Were Far More Likely to Say They Were Negatively Impacted By the Shutdown Than Republicans

Federal employees who identified themselves as Democrats were 291% more likely than Republican respondents to say they were "very unprepared [financially]" for the shutdown.

Overall, Democratic federal workers were 65% more likely than Republicans to say they were "unprepared" or "very unprepared."

The implications of this data are unclear. While this could be interpreted as a sign that Republicans are more financially responsible and secure than Democrats, it could also simply represent negative sentiment among Democrats who felt blindsided by the President’s decision — particularly when it was made in the name of an issue that they, as a group, are overwhelmingly against.

Republicans surveyed were firmly in support of the wall before the shutdown (83%), and they might not be willing to admit this hot-button topic comes at a serious financial cost.

Full Survey Results

Download raw data and analysis as an .xls file


The proprietary data featured in this report derives from an online survey commissioned by Clever Real Estate and conducted by Pollfish. In total, Pollfish surveyed 500 Americans who indicated they worked for the federal government at the time the survey was taken. Pollfish was responsible for finding and screening respondents based on criteria provided by Clever Real Estate. The survey was completed on Friday, February 8, 2019.


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[1] GOBankingRates Annual Savings Survey, 2018

[2] "Congress Seeks to Avoid New Shutdown," Jordain Carney and Niv Elis, 2/9/19

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