The partial government shutdown has now been in effect for over a month. More than 800,000 federal employees have been furloughed or are being forced to work without pay.
As this nation-wide halt in services wears on, the impacts on human lives are becoming increasingly severe. One less obvious consequence of the shutdown is a higher risk of personal injury. Here’s why:
Around 40 percent of all Americans have less than $400 saved up in case of emergency. If you’re a federal employee entering your second month of working for free, you’re likely in dire financial straits. You may have missed your mortgage payment—and you’re worried about losing your house. You may be unable to pay for heat this winter—and you’re struggling to keep warm at night.
It is unreasonable to expect such a person—with life-and-death concerns—to be able to shut off this extreme distress when they’re at work. Such employees may have stress-induced health issues. And their worries about how they’ll feed their kids will most certainly plague them on the job—leading to higher levels of distraction.
The federal employees who have been chosen to work without pay during the shutdown are deemed “essential”—because their work involves protecting property or human life. If such employees are distracted at work, they’re more likely to make mistakes—which has disastrous implications on national security and public safety.
In addition, distraction outside of work can lead to higher rates of accidents on the road. In a recent study, researchers examined over 1,000 truck drivers with different levels of financial insecurity. It found that truck drivers with serious financial stress were more distracted behind the wheel—and significantly more likely to be involved in a crash.
This finding applies to federal workers affected by the shutdown as well. The shutdown is creating higher levels of financial stress, distraction and mistakes. Ultimately, this makes us all less safe.