The partial government shutdown over Donald Trump’s border wall has now tied for the longest ever, with substantial portions of the federal government nonoperational for the third straight week. And with the stalemate between Trump, Republicans and the Democratically controlled House of Representatives holding strong, that record will likely be broken by Saturday.
Across the country, hundreds of thousands of federal employees working without pay received pay stubs today with a net total of $0.00. And numbers show that black workers, overrepresented in the federal workforce, are disproportionately affected.
According to the Guardian, black people make up 18 percent of the federal workforce (while constituting 12 percent of the U.S. population). And as Jamiles Lartey notes, this overrepresentation can be attributed to decades of hiring discrimination in the private sector. “Following the legislative civil rights gains of the 1960s, government agencies, especially federal, generally held themselves more stringently to anti-discrimination laws than private employers of the era,” he writes.
As with other federal employees, these black workers are now being forced to take leave of absences, or furloughs, or work without pay. And while increasingly growing swaths of the country know the pain of surviving paycheck to paycheck, wealth and income inequality are issues that have disproportionately affected African Americans for generations.
From the Guardian:
The profound racial wealth gap in the US makes it far more difficult for the average black American to sustain a long period without a paycheck as compared to white Americans or the US average. Median black household wealth is about $1,700 and falling, while median white wealth sits at over $116,000, according to a 2017 study by Prosperity Now and the Institute for Policy Studies.
And as many people living in and around Washington, D.C., know, the shutdown profoundly affects federal contractors who, historically, haven’t received back pay once the federal government resumes normal operations:
Here again, the burden falls disproportionately to black Americans. According to the business analytics firm Equant, “Black-owned firms comprise 2.1% of all small businesses in the country that have one or more employees. However, such firms make up 11.7% of registered federal contractors.”
“The funny thing is, they always tell you get a federal job because it’s more secure. You have better job security or better benefits and everything,” said Keith, a recent hire with the Department of Homeland Security and veteran who worked as a contractor for years (he asked that his last name be withheld to avoid potential blowback).
Keith told The Root he accepted the position six months ago, turning down other, more lucrative contract work because the stability of a government job was better for his longterm plans. Because of the new job, he was able to buy a house—then, the shutdown hit.
“Now I feel like I need to call up the bank, like, ‘Hey bank, you know half a million dollars you just loaned me? I ain’t got it,’” he said.
Still, Keith stresses that his situation is not as dire as others’.
“I am going to get paid. It’s just a matter of it’s just a matter of when,” he said.
“The TSA employees in the airport, those are the ones who are really getting screwed. They live, you know, the definition of paycheck to paycheck. They don’t make that much money. So you take this paycheck away from them. I mean that’s really fucking them over.”
Earlier this week, the American Federation of Government Employees filed a suit against the U.S. government for requiring “essential” personnel to work without pay—a move they say is a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Concerns are also mounting about what will happen if the shutdown continues “months or even years,” as Trump himself alluded. While that scenario seems implausible at the moment, it’s important to remember we’re now in uncharted territory. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says food stamp benefits will be available, but only through February. Routine food inspections from the Food and Drug Administration have also been curtailed as a result of the shutdown—a particularly cruel irony, several people have noted, as foodborne illnesses pose a greater threat to Americans than undocumented immigrants ever have.
And in one final, devastating turn, the White House says it’s now considering diverting funds from United States Army Corps of Engineers’ building hurricane recovery projects in Puerto Rico to help fund Trump’s $5 billion border wall.
“No wall should be financed with the pain and suffering of U.S. citizens who have suffered tragedy and loss through a natural disaster,” Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló wrote in response. “Mr. President, do not tear down American citizens to build a wall.”
As the shutdown lurches forward, it’s clear Trump already has.