OGDEN — The ding caused locally by the government shutdown in January and February wasn't just anecdotal, and wasn't just the lament of a handful of noisy federal workers.

Many felt the pinch.

A new Weber State University survey of federal workers who were furloughed during the Dec. 22-Jan. 25 shutdown found that more than a third of respondents missed a rent or mortgage payment, more than half faced fees on bills paid late and more than 70% felt very stressed. 

Notably, the results also show that an elevated number of respondents lacked savings — 34.5% had no savings, while 30% had savings amounting to less than a month's worth of expenses. By comparison, just 11.7% of respondents from a control group surveyed lacked savings, while 21.8% had less than a month's worth of expenses saved up.

Ogden is home to around 5,000 federal employees, most of them working for the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, one of many agencies impacted.

At the macro level, the broader Weber County economy seemed to weather the shutdown, said Guy Letendre, director of economic development for Weber State. At the micro level, among federal workers, though, the survey results tell a different story. Some, he said, were still paying back loans they had to take out due to the lack of paychecks during the 35-day shutdown. They received back pay for the period once their shuttered offices reopened.

"Anxiety was very high," one impacted worker said in a written survey response. "Spent more time in the house, sometimes in bed, just so I wouldn't have to use my resources, such as food and utilities and gas ... Very scary time."

Weber State's Center for Community Engaged Learning carried out the survey, aiming to get a firm handle on the impact of the shutdown given the large presence of IRS and other federal workers in Weber County. Hill Air Force Base is another large federal employer in the area, but it wasn't impacted by the shutdown. While the number of respondents to the worker survey, 112, wasn't large enough to constitute a representative sample, the results are "suggestive" of the experiences of those furloughed, the report said.

Later this year, the university plans to hold a series of focus group meetings to get more specific information on the impact from those it affected. The survey represents the first phase of efforts.

For Katharine French-Fuller, who spearheaded the survey as director of research for the Center for Community Engaged Learning, one of the data points that sticks out is the disparity in savings between furloughed workers and the control group. Lack of savings makes it tougher for those who experience something like the shutdown and she'd like to get a better handle on what's behind the figures.

That 72% of respondents felt an elevated level of anxiety, too, stands out. She suspects many feeling stress didn't get assistance to help them deal with their sentiments, and she'd like to flesh that figure out more, figure out why, pinpoint where they may be able to get help if there's a repeat.

Understanding the shutdown and its impact can help ready for a repeat or a similar sort of situation in the future. Moreover, the information is being used to create a guide detailing resources for those who unexpectedly find themselves furloughed, laid off or otherwise out of work so they know where help is and how to get it.

Kimberly Love, program administrator for Weber State's Community Education Center, said more than a list, the guide, she hopes, will offer step-by-step instructions on how to access help. The survey results indicated need for more detailed information than what is currently available in such areas as mental health services, childcare and assistance in paying utility bills, as well as with financing, among other things. Reps from the Ogden-Weber Chamber of Commerce are involved in the effort.

On the bright side, respondents to a parallel survey of representatives from non-profit groups said the community "rallied and came through with food drives and donations," the report said.

And Letendre emphasized that the federal sector, notwithstanding the shutdown experience, is a very stable segment of the economy. "It's a recession-proof industry. If we were in a recession, we'd be seeing these jobs would be doing really well," he said.

Similarly, Terrence Bride, business development division manager for the city of Ogden, emphasized the diversity of the local economy, tempering the broader impact when one element suffers. Federal offices are "an important component of our economy, but they are only part of our economy," he said.

Here are some takeaways from the study:

  • 34.8% of furloughed workers responding to the survey said they missed a mortgage or rent payment during the shutdown, up from 2.7% before the shutdown. Of those who missed payments on "essential bills," including mortgages, utility payments and more, 52.5% faced late fees.
  • 34.4% of respondents said they received help paying bills during the shutdown from family and friends. What's more, 30.4% said they got a loan on their credit card to help with expenses, 9.8% got a low-interest bank loan, 5.4% got a no-interest bank loan and 4.5% tapped retirement funds.
  • 18.8% received help from food pantries and 10.7% said they received free meals from local restaurants and other providers.
  • After the shutdown, 64.3% of respondents said they were very or somewhat concerned about their finances. At the time the survey was taken, only 18.8% said they had paid back all their loans or credit card charges dating to the shutdown.
  • The adverse affect to businesses was restricted chiefly to those located near federal buildings that served furloughed workers. Of the business representatives surveyed, focusing on those around federal buildings and Ogden-Weber Chamber of Commerce members, 19.1% said revenue at their locales fell by 21%-30% during the shutdown, 38.1% said it fell by 20% or less and 35.7% said they weren't affected.

The stoppage stemmed from the inability of federal officials to reach accord on spending legislation due to differences between U.S. lawmakers and President Donald Trump over funding for U.S. border security.

Contact reporter Tim Vandenack at tvandenack@standard.net, follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/timvandenackreporter.

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