The blog of the Urban Institute
January 16, 2019

Amid the shutdown, how many federal workers are also family caregivers?

January 16, 2019

Approximately 800,000 federal workers have missed their first paychecks because of what is now the longest federal government shutdown in history. The news is full of stories of workers who are now struggling to pay their bills. The impact of these struggles extends to their children and the adults with special needs who rely on them.

Federal employees are a diverse group with a wide range of needs potentially affected by the shutdown. But one common need is providing care and financial support to family members.

According to the recent Federal Work-Life Survey, which I oversaw with my colleagues at the US Office of Personnel Management, 36 percent of federal employees report having child care responsibilities, and 14 percent report having responsibilities for an adult (including elders) with special needs.

The financial strain of the ongoing partial government shutdown may be particularly acute for these families. Urban Institute researchers have shown that for many American caregivers, providing or purchasing care for children or adults is financially challenging. Federal workers also face such challenges.

Arranging child care is challenging even when the government is open

Among federal employees with child care responsibilities, the Federal Work-Life Survey shows that more than half use some form of paid care arrangement. Even absent a shutdown (such as when this survey was administered), a quarter of these workers had difficulty affording child care “sometimes,” and another quarter reported such difficulties “frequently” or “always.”

With the shutdown under way, and many employees still required to work without pay, families are reporting that they cannot pay for necessary child care or have lost access to federal child care centers that are closed. 

Beyond the challenges of accessing the care they need to work, federal employees affected by the shutdown are facing broader financial strain that will affect the thousands of dependents for whom they are responsible. As Urban’s work on children and instability has documented, disruptions to caregivers’ employment and income has negative ripple effects for children and families.

In short, when people lose income, the entire family pays the price.

Photo via Hero Images / Getty Images.

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