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Almost Half of Federal Workers Fell Behind on Bills During Shutdown

By Alex Padalka February 14, 2019

The 35-day government shutdown that ended last month took a serious toll on the financial lives not just of the 800,000 federal workers who went without paychecks but the country at large: 42% of Americans felt more stressed during the shutdown, according to a recent survey.

The situation was much more dire for federal employees, according to a Prudential Financial survey that polled 352 furloughed or unpaid federal workers or contractors and spouses, along with a national sample of 1,959 adults. Eighty-three percent of federal workers and contractors or spouses say they were much more or somewhat more stressed during that period, the survey found. And for due reason: 49% say they fell behind on their bills, including car payments, utilities and phone and cable, and 42% say they increased their debt, either by spending more on credit cards or taking out loans, according to Prudential.

Moreover, more than a third of federal employees, contractors or spouses reduced or completely wiped out their emergency savings, 27% had to miss a mortgage or rent payment and 26% borrowed money or took it out of their retirement savings, the survey found.

Advisors working either with federal workers or with the general population may have their work cut out for them. Despite the financial anxiety caused by the shutdown, the vast majority of those who weren’t prepared to go without salary checks aren’t likely to be better prepared for another shutdown: only 10% of government employees without an emergency fund, and 11% of the general population, plan to start one now, Prudential says. And only 34% of the general population with an emergency fund plan to add to it, although that figure rises to 62% among government workers and spouses, according to the survey.