Marie Owens Powell holds a placard stating ‘Pay us for our work’ while demonstrating with Philadelphia Airport TSA and airport workers outside the Philadelphia International Airport on January 25, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. | Mark Makela | Getty Images
Federal workers are still recovering from the 35-day partial government shutdown that left many employees furloughed or working without pay.
According to a Prudential survey of 350 federal workers, contractors and spouses, 62 percent said they depleted all or most of their savings as a result of the shutdown.
Nearly 50 percent said they fell behind on bills, 27 percent said they dipped into their retirement accounts to pay bills or manage their everyday expenses and 23 percent said that during the shutdown they reduced or stopped spending on health and medical expenses for themselves or family members.
“The recent government shutdown is a wake-up call for Americans and proves how vulnerable people are to income volatility,” said Prudential Group Insurance President Jamie Kalamarides in a statement.
A placard stating ‘Pay us for our work’ is displayed on a security line after Philadelphia Airport TSA and airport workers held a protest rally outside the Philadelphia International Airport on January 25, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. | Mark Makela | Getty Images
Ebony Williams, a 29-year-old paralegal specialist for the Department of Justice, said the government shutdown did in fact serve as a wake-up call for her family. “I’m a single mother, so it was really stressful because I had to not only worry about myself, but I had to worry about feeding my child,” she tells CNBC Make It.
Williams says she was fortunate enough to have had savings at the start of the shutdown. But a few weeks in, she began to worry and contacted her leasing office about a payment plan.
“They still wanted their money,” says Williams, who missed two paychecks. She says the company agreed to split her rent into two payments, which was helpful, “but when money is not coming in, then it’s like, where am I supposed to get the other half from?”
Forty percent of survey respondents borrowed money from family or friends during the shutdown. Broken down by gender, 46 percent of women and 33 percent of men said they received money from a loved one.
Protesters hold signs during a protest rally by government workers and concerned citizens against the government shutdown on Friday, January 11, 2019 at Post Office Square near the Federal building, headquarters for the EPA and IRS in Boston. | Joseph Prezioso | AFP | Getty Images
For Williams, relying on family wasn’t a viable option. Her parents are also federal employees and were affected by the shutdown. Luckily, she says, her mom’s agency had enough funding to push her furlough date back. But, that still meant her parents were living off one income.
“They were trying to help me out a little bit, but it couldn’t be much because my mom was the only one working,” she says. “But even she was unsure, because she was only funded up until a certain date.”
To ease the burden while furloughed or working without pay, 33 percent of federal employees took on temporary/gig work, according to Prudential. One of those employees was Williams, who says she searched online for side work, but found very few open positions that gave her the flexibility she needed as a parent. She says she turned to a familiar hobby to see if she could make some money.
“I was making myself a wig and I posted it on Instagram,” she says. “Then people started hitting my inbox saying , ‘This looks good. How much do you charge? Can you make me one?'” Williams says she started accepting orders. She made six wigs over the course of three weeks and earned a profit of a little over $600.
“It has definitely turned into a full side hustle,” she says.
Though Williams says she has received her back pay, the threat of another shutdown in the future is still scary. To prepare, she says she’s being extra cautious about spending and setting aside extra time to build her side hustle.
“At one point, I felt like everybody wanted to work for the government because it was so secure,” she says. “But now, it’s creating that second thought in your head like, ‘It’s always good to have another job just in case.'”