By Arjun Verma, Staff Writer
Looking back on the longest government shutdown in United States history, much of the attention was focused on the plight of approximately 800,000 federal workers who worked without pay, and rightly so—these people trudged to work every day while having to worry over how they were going to pay the down payment on their house or their credit card bills. Lines at airports dragged on for hours at some of the busiest airports in the nation. News organizations even recognized the shuttering of national parks and museums across the country.
However, there have been whole communities affected by the shutdown that were absent from this narrative, many of whom members of far more vulnerable populations. For example, according to Ari Shapiro of NPR, the shutdown disproportionately affected African-Americans, who are significantly overrepresented in the federal workforce because they have been frequently discriminated against in the private workforce, and have therefore resorted to jobs in the federal realm to secure a stable income for themselves. Consequently, African-Americans—who are already disadvantaged in terms of wealth and connections—are sinking into even more despair.
In addition, the people who desperately rely on certain government programs and agencies have also been ignored by most news coverage of the shutdown. For instance, the Department of Housing and Urban Development—which is responsible for providing public housing to vulnerable people—was severely defunded due to the shutdown. This had catastrophic effects on the people who rely on the HUD’s inspection and moving services. One family’s floor even collapsed due to delays in processing a house inspection. Because 72% of people who are dependent on these programs are low-income families, the shutdown has particularly afflicted those who are already struggling with money. Other agencies such as the Department of Agriculture—which supplies food stamps to low-income families—were driven to the brink of bankruptcy in order to continue providing their services to the 40 million people who desperately depend on them.
While it may feel like the troubles are over now that the shutdown has ended, the fact that politicians were willing to take advantage of these voiceless people—federal employees and dependents of the government included—as pawns to advance their self-interested agendas is a troubling reminder of the state of politics today. These politicians need to be reminded that, while they may feel protected in their bubble of wealth and status, their decisions and policies can have tangible and devastating impacts on ordinary citizens.
The framing of issues simply in terms of political concessions and advantages actually distances politicians from the people they are supposed to be helping. Instead, as the shutdown has proven, these disadvantaged people are ignored and left to struggle for themselves. Federal employees are forced to work odd jobs. Poor citizens must pray for an end to the debacle so they can get their much-needed support from government agencies. Meanwhile, the representatives, senators, and President enjoy their status and prosperity with little regard for the struggles of their constituents. This gambling of the lives of real people for political gain has to end in order to preserve the integrity of our government and our nation.