After spending last weekend in a snowless New York, we returned to more than seven inches of snow in Washington, D.C. It seemed like adding insult to injury. The federal government was shut down, but the few offices that had managed to remain open would close on Monday because of the weather. Our nation’s capital had truly ground to a halt.
As editor for Woman Around Town, I divide my time between New York and D.C., two of my favorite cities, filled with great restaurants, museums, and theater. Both cities attract hordes of tourists. But now those crowds in D.C. have disappeared. As part of the federal government, the Smithsonian museums are closed, including my favorite, the National Portrait Gallery. The National Zoo is closed, too, although we hope that the animals are still being cared for. Restaurants are empty, stores deserted, movie theaters without lines, even hair and nail spas are wanting for customers. According to a recent report from CareerBuilders, a staggering 78 percent of our population lives paycheck to paycheck. And yes, that includes a large number of Americans who work for the federal government, not only in D.C., but all over the country. Missing a paycheck means there’s not enough money to pay monthly bills, not for luxuries, but for necessities. Missing a paycheck means that TSA workers, working without being paid, may not have enough money for gas to get to an airport.
Some people living in my apartment building cannot pay their rent and are asking for extensions. Last week, 20 Whole Foods, including the one in Old Town Alexandria near me, sponsored spaghetti dinners for federal workers. Chef José Andres, well known for his humanitarian work following Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and the Paradise Fire in California, has been nominated for a Noble Prize. To help feed 800,000 federal employees and contractors who are either furloughed or working without pay, Andres opened a pop-up kitchen in the city’s Penn Quarter. Many other restaurants are stepping forward to help feed those who need help.
D.C. has been characterized as a “swamp,” a place where government workers feed at the public trough without doing any real work. That’s not what I see in my day to day dealings with this devoted work force. Many government workers could be making far more money by taking jobs in the private sector. But the call of public service is what drives many of them. That, and perhaps the idea that working for the federal government should provide steady employment. Now we are seeing many of these people reevaluating their decisions. We need talented, dedicated people in these jobs not only in Washington, but all over the country. This shutdown will have a detrimental effect in the future for recruiting high quality people for government jobs.
All of this over a wall that we don’t need and won’t help us solve our immigration problems. Yes, we need security at our border, but a concrete or steel wall, that can be tunneled under, is a medieval way for dealing with the issue. Technology offers better ways to protect our country. Let’s have discussions about what those methods might be.
But first, let’s open the government and get people back to work.
Top photo: Bigstock