Record federal shutdown hit northern Utah workers hard

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SALT LAKE CITY — More than a third of federal workers in Weber County missed a rent or mortgage payment and nearly a third went to a food pantry or received a free meal during the 35-day government shutdown this past December and January.

Those were among the findings of Weber State University’s Center for Community Engaged Learning-Research Extension surveys measuring the impact of the partial federal shutdown on the northern Utah economy. The study is the first attempt to understand the financial effect the shutdown had on both furloughed employees and local businesses as well as broader and long-lasting impacts on the community.

“I just wish that Congress would realize that shutting the government down affects a lot of people," according to one survey respondent. "All we want to do is go to work, do our job and get paid like everyone else."

An impasse between Congress and President Donald Trump over border wall funding hit Weber County — home to about 5,000 Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Forest Service workers — particularly hard.

"During those weeks, our community saw its neighbors suffering, heard about nonprofits that were strained, and saw local restaurants cutting hours because of the shutdown," according to the report.

The results, however, were limited due to federal regulations preventing local IRS, Forest Service and Transportation Safety Administration officials from distributing the survey to their employees. Research relied on local union representatives to send the survey to their members.

The center received 112 responses to the federal employee survey, most of whom indicated they work for the IRS, which has about 4,000 union members in Ogden. A majority said they had worked at the IRS for more than 11 years.

"Being the bread winner of a family of five is extremely challenging. It happened right after Christmas so funds were low anyway. It literally happened at the worst possible time of year," according to one survey respondent.

The surveys measured the shutdown’s effect on federal employees, local businesses and nonprofit organizations.

"As an economic development leader in the region, it is important for Weber State to understand and identify the community impact of major events such as the recent government shutdown,” said Guy Letendre, Weber State economic development director.


Of those who took out loans or used credit cards to help make ends meet, 71 percent said they would need three or more months to repay the debts. Sixty percent applied to skip or defer payment for a credit card, mortgage or loan during the shutdown and 35 percent missed a rent or mortgage payment.

The survey found that 36 percent of federal workers received help from charities, friends or family during the shutdown.

After going back to work, 65 percent show they are very or somewhat concerned about finances.

The shutdown also affected workers' mental health, with 72 percent reporting a high level of anxiety or stress during that time. Less than 4 percent reported receiving help for their mental health.

Businesses also suffered financially during those 35 days. Nearly 60 percent saw revenue decreases, though 78 percent don't expect lasting effects from the shutdown, according to the survey.

Most nonprofits surveyed reported seeing either the same demand or little increase in demand for their services during the shutdown. Still, half reported that the shutdown impacted their ability to provide services.

Katharine French-Fuller, center director, said surveys raised a lot of interesting questions that researchers would like to explore by conducting focus groups this fall.

"This will include questions like why furloughed employees had such low rates of savings, how employees working without pay can receive services and how our community can meet the mental health needs of those affected," she said.

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Dennis Romboy
Dennis Romboy is an editor and reporter for the Deseret News. He has covered a variety of beats over the years, including state and local government, social issues and courts. A Utah native, Romboy earned a degree in journalism from the University of Utah. He enjoys cycling, snowboarding and running.


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