In unforseen ways, the government shutdown is impacting the lives of Alaskans

Published: Jan. 10, 2019 at 2:16 PM AKST
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In Alaska, a state with a disproportionate amount of federal employees as compared to other states, the exact impact of the nation-wide government shutdown is widespread.

This shutdown boils down to funds for a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, for which President Donald Trump wants $5 billion included in the spending budget to pay for. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democrats have opposed this.

The quibble in Washington is impacting federal employees across the country, but in Alaska, the state with the highest number of affected federal workers per capita, that impact is major.

Of its roughly 15,000 federal jobs, Alaska Department of Labor estimates 5,624 positions are in agencies immediately affected by the shutdown.

Many of those personnel are either furloughed, or working without pay with the expectation that they will be paid once the shutdown ends. Some, however, will be impacted in other, unforeseen ways as well.

"It's called the cost of uncertainty, and its impact can be pretty widespread," said Dan Robinson, Chief of Research and Analysis with the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

According to Robinson, that uncertainty could extend to other personnel who, in light of the shutdown's indeterminate duration, may have adjusted their lives.

"They could have decided against a purchase they were planning on making, a trip they were going to take, or even in some cases a medical procedure," Robinson said. "The cost of uncertainty is real."

Robinson said that if the shutdown ends before a month goes by, it will not factor as a disruption into their numbers, but if it doesn't, it could make a big difference in their books.

Of the roughly 15,000 federal employees, 5,624 missing from payroll would leave just some 10,000 jobs, making it look like the various departments lost a third of their workforce in a month.

"If it goes on another month, if we go all the way through January, we go down to 10,000. And 5,000 is a big number, it hasn't been down that much during this recession," Robinson said.

As of Thursday, Jan. 10, the current government shutdown over the border wall is the second-longest government shutdown in U.S. history.

If it continues for one more day, it will tie with the 21-day-long shutdown between Newt Gingrich and then-President Bill Clinton over cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.

If the shutdown lasts for two more days, it will be the longest in history.

As for how that effect is being felt by real Alaskans, it's difficult for labor researchers to quantify until the dust settles. "We don't know yet," said Robinson. "But it has downstream impacts."

"At the very least it's certainly affecting the 5,000 or so federal employees who are either furloughed or working without pay," he said.

Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, departing from the majority of Senate Republicans, said

Alaska's Junior Senator, Dan Sullivan, said he "supports the president in his efforts and in his Administration’s efforts to secure our border."