In the first week of the semester, students made their way back to campus, finalized their schedules and prepared for the academic and extracurricular rigor of Kenyon’s campus. As the routines and daily rhythms set in, there is still one looming factor of uncertainty: The government is in partial shutdown, and hundreds of thousands of Americans are left without pay.
On Jan. 21, this shutdown became the longest in U.S. history. Even though College operations, including dining and financial aid, remain relatively unaffected by the shutdown, many students returned to campus unsure of when their parents’ next paycheck would arrive. They still don’t know.
“It’s a stressor,” Miriam Hyman ’21, whose mother works as a chemist for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said. “We as a family have some savings, so we don’t have to worry about losing our house or not being able to pay Kenyon tuition because I’m on scholarship — but it is this concern of ‘we only have so much time before this starts seriously impacting our lives.’” Hyman’s mother has been furloughed because of the shutdown.
Since the shutdown began, she has been looking a way to supplement her income. “It’s hard because she’s a very qualified chemist and there really aren’t any temporary positions available for chemical analysts,” Hyman said.
Now, Hyman’s mother is one of the thousands of furloughed Americans filing for unemployment. Other government workers, like Matt Harrington’s ’22 father, who works for the Department of Justice, do not qualify for unemployment. That’s because they have been deemed “essential” by the federal government and are therefore still working without pay.
For most of these workers, tomorrow will mark the second missed paycheck should the shutdown continue, but because they are slated to receive back pay for hours worked once the government re-opens, they do not qualify for unemployment benefits, according to the Labor Department.
Harrington, a resident of the D.C. area, expressed concern for his hometown should the government
shutdown continue. “[A continued shutdown] would completely destroy my hometown and its economy,” he said. “It can’t go on like this for much longer … It’s not sustainable.”
In 2017, with about 364,000 government employees, the District’s Office of Revenue stated that the federal government is the largest single employer in the area.
Efforts to help furloughed workers and those working without pay are surfacing across the country, including in Mount Vernon. According to the Mount Vernon News, the local YMCA will waive one month of membership fees for employees affected by the shutdown.
“We’re all about helping community needs,” YMCA Executive Director Nick Clark said in an interview with the Mount Vernon News, stating that although exercise is a stress reducer, things like gym memberships are usually the first to go when people are worried about money.
On campus, students like Britny Patterson ’19 are also facing another impact of the government shutdown: the inability to apply for government jobs. A political science major, Patterson had hoped to spend her break applying for jobs with the Department of State and the Department of Defense. Though there were already hiring freezes on these departments, rumors of the freezes ending faded the minute the government was put on partial shutdown.
As the government shutdown enters its 34th day, 800,000 federal workers and even more government contractors struggle to continue through daily life without the promise of wages. Travel Security Agency lines grow longer as airports are forced to shut down their terminals. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi continue to debate the practicality of a wall along the U.S. southern border as well as the morality of Trump’s proposed immigration policies.
“It’s the longest shutdown because it’s not really about securing the southern border for either side,” David Rowe, professor of political science and interim director of the Center for the Study of American Democracy, said. “The shutdown is about establishing whether or not Congress is a coequal branch with the president.”
The effects of the government shutdown will only grow in magnitude as it continues, according to Rowe. “A lot of what the government does is imperceptible until it’s not,” Rowe said. “We just assume that the government is going to be there — and most of the time, it is. Even when it’s not there, you can coast on inertia for a while. But then, suddenly, things will start happening.”
Patterson also expressed concern over reactions to the shutdown. “I think it’s important, especially for Kenyon students, not to grow numb to things like government shutdowns. It is important to call your senator, make your government do what is supposed to do and be aware of [the impacts of the shutdown] even before you encounter [them],” she said. “The words ‘government shutdown’ should set off red flags in everyone’s minds.”