“It’s a constant stressor.”
“I see no way out.”
What do professors, real estate agents, farmers, business executives, computer programmers, and store clerks have in common?
They’re not immune to the harsh reality of living paycheck to paycheck, according to dozens of people who responded to a Washington Post inquiry on Twitter.
They’re millennials, Gen Xers, and baby boomers. They work in big cities and rural towns. They’ve tried to save — but rent, child care, student loans, and medical bills get in the way.
National data on the paycheck-to-paycheck experience is flimsy, but a recent report from the Federal Reserve spotlights the prevalence of extra-tight budgets: Four in 10 adults say they couldn’t produce $400 in an emergency without sliding into debt or selling something, according to the 2017 figures.
The partial government shutdown, which began last Friday and is temporarily halting pay for some 800,000 federal workers, has touched off a heated discussion on Twitter about what it means to get by in the United States. (President Donald Trump warned this closure could “last a very long time” if Congress doesn’t meet his demands for billions of dollars for a border wall.)
Even brief income lapses can spell disaster for some households.
“My husband is a Park Ranger in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and he had to sign his furlough papers,” one woman tweeted. “We have a 4 yr. old and a 4-month-old, and we don’t know when his next check will come. Mortgage is due, Christmas 2 days away.”
“Broke my lease to accept new fed job for which I have to attend 7 months of training in another state,” wrote another Twitter user who later deleted the tweet. “Training canceled with shutdown. Homeless. Can’t afford short(?)-term housing/have to work full-time for no pay/returning Christmas presents.”
These and other #ShutdownStories took off online after Rep. Scott Perry (R., Pa.) suggested last week that a gap in wages wouldn’t be so bad.
“Who’s living that they’re not going to make it to the next paycheck?” he asked reporters, adding that most of those impacted would qualify for back pay.
According to economists: A lot of people.
“It’s astronomical what people need just to make it month to month,” said Heidi Shierholz, a former chief economist at the Department of Labor who now studies how middle-class families spend their wages at the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think tank that is funded by foundations and unions. “Given the high cost of transportation, housing, health care. … There is often no wriggle room.”
About 2,000 custodians, security guards, housekeepers, and other federal building workers are losing money this holiday season because of the shutdown, according to 32BJ SEIU, an East Coast labor union — and because such staffers are employed by contractors, they won’t be eligible for makeup checks.