Friday, January 25, 2019

Hard Times, Hard Choices

This government shutdown has gone on for a full month and judging from the rhetoric, it's foolhardy to make any predictions. Last week when I started to write this piece, it was because I felt a little guilty about going to the nail salon...

The last time I got my nails done was in early December on my birthday, but when the shutdown started, I decided to wait until everything was resolved. Then two weeks became three, then four and even though I knew that it was neither urgent or necessary, I walked into the salon last week. Then I walked down to the Sephora and bought some new eyeliner. And since I'm in the mood for confessing, I have also bought four pairs of pantyhose, a new bra, lipstick, brunch, and a cocktail when it wasn't Happy Hour.

My rationale excuse for all of that non-essential spending has been that small and local businesses are also adversely impacted by the shutdown, so my modest patronage is a form of support. Thus, I am helping to keep the local economy pumping (and the nail technicians from remaining idle in an empty salon). My makeup purchases are just a demonstration of the lipstick effect. But let's not discuss what is going on with my hair...

However, at the end of week five with no end in sight, my guilt returns. Not because I've spent money on little extras but because the situation for others has gotten more serious, dire even. Eviction notices are going out next week. Mortgage and tuition payments are overdue. Gas money is light, but some people still have to commute to jobs without receiving pay. Yet the Secretary of Commerce wonders aloud why people just don't apply for loans at their credit unions instead of going to the local food bank. This Administration's chief economic advisor commends his staff for their volunteer efforts. The President believes that grocery stores allow customers to run tabs and his daughter-in-law says that this is all for a worthy cause.

The Speaker of the House refers to furloughed federal employees as hostages, which is a great analogy on one hand, but the visual image that conjures up doesn't appear to move the needle much. Her colleagues on the Senate side voted down two bills that would have opened the government. On social media, opinions reflect the polarization of the electorate while the job approval polls reflect the public's growing anxiety. Sympathetic stories have been broadcast everywhere, but nothing has changed.

Next week those idle nail technicians, the hair stylist, the retail salesperson, the lunch counter server, the bank teller, the delivery guy, the bartender, the waitress, the car mechanic, and all of the other people who don't work for the government have bills that will come due. Maybe they'll be okay for a while, because surely those people don't live paycheck to paycheck and they recognize that this is all for the greater good, but what happens later on in the month when their bosses feel the pinch? What then?

What happens when the food banks and the diaper banks and all of the organizations that usually rely on the generosity of federal employees to help others are forced to ration because their resources are stretched beyond capacity? What happens when this shutdown goes into its seventh or eighth week and heating bills, medical bills, and credit card bills begin to pile up? What happens when parents can't afford daycare and the daycare can't afford to stay open because too many parents can't pay?

For people who live in other parts of the country where this pain is familiar (because anyone who lives in company towns surely knows the ripple effect that can occur when that company closes shop), please tell us what happens next in month three, and then what happens when month six comes. Tell us how to make the hard choices that come from just trying to live.

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