Ryan is a well-paid, talented contractor for a federal agency. When his alarm went off Thursday morning at 10:30, he hit the snooze and dozed for another 40 minutes. Why not? It’s not like he’s expected at the office.
You see, Ryan -- who asked not be identified by either his real name or employer out of concern over possible reprisals -- is one of hundreds of thousands of furloughed federal workers who have been left to sit around the house all day, trying to keep busy as a result of the U.S. Congress failing to come up with an agreement that would pay him to do his important, but “nonessential,” job.
So the 20-something busied himself on the third day of his indefinite limbo to do errands, spend time with his wife and, of course, play “Grand Theft Auto V,” which he’s working his way through much more quickly than he ever thought would be possible.
Ryan doesn’t want to be sitting around all day, finding ways to distract himself to avoid languishing in a pile of junk food and beer bottles. But he’s been mandated to stay home, barred from even accessing his government email account under threat of prosecution for violating a nonact of Congress.
“The first day it felt like a snow day or something. I had a bunch of stuff I had to do at work that Tuesday that I didn’t have to do anymore and it was nice not having to stress about it,” he said. “But by Thursday, the knowledge of how serious and how uncertain it is set in, and that uncertainty is very disconcerting.”
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Still, Ryan found ways to be productive: mowing his lawn, getting his bicycle fixed and seeing his doctor.
Here’s a chronological breakdown of how Ryan’s Thursday at home in his sleepy Washington suburb played out, as compiled by him:
10:30-11:10 Alarm rings, hit snooze
11:10-11:30 Wake up Make leftover iced coffee and Cliff bar for breakfast
11:30-12:00 Drive to foot doctor to check on sprain from several weeks ago
12:00-1:00 Drive to bike shop, pick up fixed bike (new inner-tube, basic maintenance)
1:00-2:00 Get home, ride bike around neighborhood for a while to test it
2:00-3:00 Mow lawn
Google “shutdown,” check contractor webpage
3:00-5:00 Browse Internet and Reddit
Lunch -- Trader Joe’s salad, apple
Text people, make weekend plans
Google “shutdown,” check contractor webpage again
Take dog for walk in neighborhood
More “GTA V”
Cook dinner (eggplant parm)
Eat dinner with wife
Watch TV, have a few beers
Watch TV with wife -- “Parks and Recreation,” “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” “Sons of Anarchy”
Google “shutdown,” check contractor webpage
Read in bed with wife, go to sleep
Doesn’t sound like too bad of a day, but Ryan said that being subjected to a surreal version of house arrest, not knowing when or if he’ll be paid for these forced days off is not all it’s cracked up to be.
Especially considering the fact that due to the uncertain terms of the shutdown, he doesn’t even know if he’ll get back pay for the days he’s spent on his couch and shuttling between the grocery store, his yard and his couch.
“It’s kind of boring and frustrating at the same time. I’m not really doing much. I don’t really know how long it’s going to last,” he explained, adding that he may even start looking for one-off freelance gigs to supplement his income if the shutdown drags on much longer.
“If I knew I was being paid, I could relax a little bit more and do some fun stuff and maybe take a minivacation,” he said. “But since I don’t know whether I’m getting paid, I may have to start making other plans to pay the rent. I have a decent amount of savings, and I don’t have kids to support or anything, so I’m lucky that way, but still it’s frustrating because it seems kind of indefinite at this point.”
Employees at his agency were retroactively paid for the days of work they missed during the federal government shutdowns of 1995 and 1996, but there is no guarantee that history will repeat itself to Ryan’s benefit.
Never mind the fact that he and his colleagues have lost many hours of productivity already, from the days whiled away preparing to close shop as the clock neared the shutdown date and the diminished momentum that sets in after being away from the office for days or weeks on end.
“We had a lot of activities planned for October that are now getting pushed back and being rescheduled, and just the general idea that it interrupts the workflow. You’re on a day-to-day basis working on projects and are all of a sudden forced to stop working on them and it will take a while to get back into it,” he lamented.
“It’s really bad for morale because you think the stuff you’re working on is important and you’re doing a really good job, and all of a sudden you have to stop working on it because it’s not ‘essential.’ Being told that your tasks are not essential is demoralizing.”
But for now Ryan is left with no choice but to fill his days according to his own whims. He’s revisiting neglected hobbies -- working his way through his reading list, playing guitar and biking around his neighborhood, all in hopes of staving off the boredom and creeping despair. But it seems to be somewhat of a losing struggle as he said it’s not so easy to replace a 9-to-5 job you love.
“It’s really weird going from working every day to filling your day with random stuff and having to try to be productive but not being able to because there’s nothing really productive to do,” he said. “Certainly next week is going to be very strange, waking up on Monday and having probably like a full week with nothing to do.”