A veteran American diplomat is currently doing two very different jobs. The first is the one she’s trained for and has held for many years: Analyzing the complex political affairs of a strategically important country for the U.S. State Department. The other is reviewing cosmetic products. According to a report in the Washington Post, that latter position is the only job she’s being paid for at the moment, thanks to the current government shutdown, which now threatens to become the longest in U.S history.
This is the predicament that over 420,000 federal employees find themselves in. Some employees who hold positions deemed essential are working without pay, while roughly 380,000 have been placed on unpaid leave or furloughed.
At New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport alone, as many as 170 TSA employees have called out sick each day this week. At Dallas-Fort Worth International, call-outs are up 200% to 300%. This is ironic, given that the government is shut down due to an alleged security threat at the border, yet TSA agents calling out at record levels leave our borders less secure.
One of the saddest parts of the whole sordid affair is that some say the shutdown seems to be disproportionately affecting low-wage workers, including those who clean some of the most visible symbols of our democracy: Washington, D.C., monuments, museums, and government buildings. Yet these workers are the very people who historically don’t win congressional approval to recoup lost wages once the government reopens. To borrow a well-worn phrase from President Trump, “Very unfair.”
So what do these hundreds of thousands of employees and contractors do when the U.S. government tells them they’re not getting paid? They turn to the gig economy and sign on with companies like Fiverr, Uber, Airbnb, and TaskRabbit for work.
On Fiverr, our data shows that of all gigs opened by U.S.-based sellers in the seven weeks prior to the shutdown, 0.46% out of roughly 50,000 came from Washington, D.C. Since the shutdown began on December 22, we have seen that number jump to 0.65%. That represents a 41% relative increase in services being offered in that single geographic area. This spike (particularly in services such as online marketing, programming, and tech) is especially significant, given that it took place over the holidays. At this time across the U.S.–with the exception of a select few markets–Fiverr saw a decrease in new gigs opened. During the same time last year, there was a 26% relative decrease of U.S. gigs opened in the D.C. area.
One of those select few markets is the California-Lexington Park area of Maryland. This is an area where federal workers represent almost 16% of the population–the most in the nation. There, Fiverr experienced a whopping 350% increase in gigs opened.
While Fiverr is happy our platform can offer some financial security to those affected by the shutdown, we certainly don’t see this increase in activity as a good thing. There are plenty of people on the platform who are earning six figures, and even millions of dollars. But we also know that building a successful business on Fiverr doesn’t happen overnight, and in the short term, gig work isn’t comparable to their salaries. These people need to pay their mortgages, pay for childcare, and put food on the table for their families. Right now they can’t do so because the administration believes a routine political dispute is more important than their well-being.
The shutdown is affecting everyone in one way or another. Whether it’s deadly accidents that are going uninvestigated by the National Transportation Safety Board or the piles of trash and overflowing toilets in our national parks, the whole country seems to be stuck in an unrelenting downward spiral until Democrats and Republicans come to some sort of agreement and reopen the government. Let’s hope that happens soon.
Brent Messenger is the global head of community at Fiverr.