ABC News: Despite focus on Washington, data shows how shutdown hurt federal workers nationwide

By Annika Merrilees and Cheyenne Haslett

It’s not clear yet what the lasting impact will be on federal workers furloughed in the longest-ever government shutdown — even as Congress holds talks to avoid another one — but a closer look at employee data nationwide paints a picture of the economic struggles many now might face because of the political standoff.

Here are more details on how and where they were affected, according to an ABC News analysis of the nearly 2.1 million federal employees across the country. The analysis also focuses specifically on Alaska, Wyoming, New Mexico and California — all states where workers went without badly-needed paychecks and without the attention given to government workers in and around Washington.

One federal employee ABC News spoke with, Joshua Rider, works as a staff attorney with the Agriculture Department in San Francisco. His entire office was furloughed in the shutdown.

“We’re civil servants, and we do it in part because we value public service,” Rider said in an interview during the shutdown. “Regardless of the policy differences, we should not be using the federal workforce as hostages and leverage.”

The Agriculture Department was one of four agencies ABC News took an in-depth look at as part of the analysis. The agencies — the Agriculture, Interior, State and Treasury departments — were four of the largest and most affected by the partial shutdown, according to the government contingency plans issued beforehand, and also had the most data publicly available.

The data shows the breadth of impact the shutdown had on Americans — tens of thousands of whom were already making less than $40,000 a year working for the government.

For example, at least 19,300 workers make less than $40,000 per year at the Agriculture Department and about 13,000 make less than that at the Treasury Department.

In some states, those employees are more concentrated. In Wyoming, nearly a quarter of the state’s federal workers make less than $40,000, and the same is true for about 15 percent of New Mexico’s federal workers. In Alaska, where salary data is available for roughly 11,400 federal workers, about 7 percent make less than $40,000.

And nationwide, at least 38,000 federal employees nationwide make less than $30,000 per year, about 2 percent of the government workforce, according to data from the Office of Personnel Management, which excludes salary details for more than 280,000 employees.

For context, a family of four with two children is considered in the poverty threshold if their combined income is less than about $25,000.


24 percent of workers for one affected agency live in four states

The Department of Agriculture employs people in all 50 states — but employs the most in California, Washington, D.C., Oregon, Texas and Montana.

Broken down, 6.5 percent of its workforce is in D.C. — and 24 percent of the whole agency’s workforce — is in the four states.

“When [people] think of the shutdown, they think largely of Washington, D.C., and the Northern Virginia and nearby Maryland suburbs — which are home to very large numbers of federal workers, and many of my colleagues whom I adore,” said Rider, the staff attorney with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Office of General Counsel in California, where almost 11 percent of the workforce is employed.

“But there is a vast federal workforce throughout the country,” Rider said.

When everyone in his office was furloughed, Rider said key services like environmental litigation and wildfire cost recovery cases were put on hold, but it also created another problem: employee discouragement.

As attorneys, Rider said, many in his office would be “substantially better compensated in the private market.”

Rider called it an “extra blow” that “the security and stability that you’ve counted on in a public service job has been so disrupted.”

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