The partial shutdown of the federal government continues. (While it would be good news indeed if it’s reopened by the time you’re reading this, as I am writing both sides are digging in their heels and hardly listening to each other, so it may well persist.)
Headlines are replete with the fallout from some 800,000 federal employees either staying home or being forced to work without pay. The financial hardships for these individuals and families are mounting, and many are struggling to find alternative ways to make some interim cash. Even if they are ultimately paid, most Americans would be hard pressed to deal with an unexpected stoppage of pay, and these federal workers are no exception. Things don’t simply go back to normal when you are paid retroactively.
In addition to the trash piling up, monuments and museums remaining closed, and other nuisances, the intensity of a long shutdown is now being felt across many industries. Fewer federal inspectors on the job are delaying approval of everything from craft beers to aircraft maintenance inspections. Applications of many types are stalled and it will take time for agencies to catch up. Initial public offerings can’t happen, often disrupting years of meticulous planning.
One area which may not be directly affecting a large number of people but is indirectly affecting virtually everyone is the production of government data. Numbers junkies like me rely on the timely and accurate release of thousands of datapoints to formulate estimates of economic activity and projections of future patterns. Obviously, I would notice.
Beyond the arcane realm of econometric folk, however, decisionmakers across the spectrum directly rely heavily on federal data. Population estimates, industry trends, and thousands of other data series come into play as businesses attempt to make optimal operations and investment decisions. Many contracts have terms that are triggered by economic data, and it plays a critical role in monetary policy, lending decisions, and many other aspects of our daily lives. Although some agencies are operating pretty much as normal (including the Bureau of Labor Statistics), others are not. We (or, at least, you, unless your social life is similar to mine) may not see it and think about it all the time (for your sake, I hope not), but rest assured that you are profoundly affected by it.
The bottom line is that the little-noticed effects of the shutdown are beginning to compound. Even if it ends tomorrow, it will take some time to work through backlogs and get things back on track. It’s past time for meaningful dialogue and a return to full functioning for the federal government. In the world’s greatest democracy, that should be table stakes.