Study Says Federal Employees Weren’t Prepared for the Shutdown

A recent study looked at the ways and extent to which federal employees’ lives were disrupted by the recent shutdown.

A recent study found that federal employees were not financially prepared for the shutdown and also remain pessimistic about the odds of another one happening in the future.

The study, which was conducted by Clever Real Estate, looked at the impact the shutdown had on the lives of 500 federal employees. To say the least, the findings showed that the shutdown was disruptive.

These are some of the key findings:

  • 78% of federal employees in the study said that they believe another shutdown will take place
  • 57% of federal workers said the shutdown negatively impacted their life; 23% said they would need to borrow money or dip into their savings after one to two weeks without pay.
  • Many federal workers didn’t have enough cash savings to get them through the shutdown. 41% of respondents either considered or resorted to options like:
    • Taking out a loan (17%)
    • Dipping into retirement savings (19%)
    • Applying for a new credit card (13%)
    • Borrowing from family and friends (22%)
    • Cashing out equity on a home or property (4%)
    • Using crowdfunding sites (3%)
  • Approximately one third said they sought supplemental income through gig-economy work (i.e. driving for Uber)
  • 35% of federal workers said the government shutdown affected their ability to save for or make a major life purchase and of those, 38% said they would need to put off buying a house.
  • 60% said they had to cut back on buying essentials (i.e. groceries)
  • Many federal workers are fed up: 5% quit their jobs following the shutdown, 10% are actively looking for a new job, and 14% are thinking about looking for a new job.

Demographics and Political Leanings

Political beliefs of the study’s respondents broke out as follows: 41% Democrats, 30% Republicans, and 29% independent. 44% of respondents blamed President Trump for the shutdown, 22% blamed the Democrats, 5% blamed Republicans, and 25% say both parties are equally to blame. Among Democrats, blame was much higher on the president (90%) compared to just 9% of Republicans placing the blame on Trump.

Interestingly, how prepared respondents were financially for going without pay temporarily varied widely among political ideologies. Federal employees who identified as Democrats were 291% more likely to say that they were “very unprepared [financially]” for the shutdown versus those identifying as Republicans.

Millennials (ages 18 to 34) were 21% less likely than older federal workers to seek supplemental income from side jobs during the shutdown, and they were 83% less likely to take on online freelance work.

Male respondents were nearly 200% more likely than female respondents to say that the shutdown negatively impacted their ability to save for a house, car, college, marriage, or retirement.

Why the Survey?

One of the first questions I had when I read about the survey results was, “Why is a real estate company doing a study on how the shutdown impacted federal employees?” Although the information was very compelling, it just struck me as out of place.

In his blog post discussing the survey results, Tommy O’Shaughnessy, a Research Analyst at Clever Real Estate, provided a logical answer to this question:

Initially, our primary interest was the shutdown’s effect on housing market trends — that is, whether or not it impeded the ability of federal workers to purchase homes, make mortgage payments, repair or renovate, save for retirement, etc.

However, the data we collected tells a much larger story than we initially expected, providing granular insights into a wide range of areas, from the shutdown’s impact on government workers’ sense of job security to their political leanings, spending habits, general state of financial well-being and preparedness, and more.


Shutdowns have become much more normal in Washington, happening with more and more frequency in political battles that leave federal employees caught in the middle. The study clearly indicated that some federal employees were caught off guard, but in light of the insecurity that the risk of shutdowns creates, having a plan to be prepared for rainy days such as having an emergency fund and/or generating income on the side is more important now than ever.

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.