In this morning’s paper I saw an item about how the US Department of Defense is going to institute a mandatory furlough for 11 days’ work for 680,000 civilian employees of that agency between July 8 and the end of the fiscal year (October 31, 2013). Trying to assess the overall impact on employment and the economy I immediately grabbed my calculator and started running some numbers. 680,00 x 11 x 8 (number of employees times number of days times number of hours in a workday) = 59,840,000 hours. With 2080 hours in a normal working year (52 weeks times 40 hours per week) that translates into a job loss of roughly 29,000 (28,769.23 to be more precise).
Here’s the blog headline from the Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire post on this topic.
But is the loss of an average of about four days’ work per person for three months for those 680,000 individuals who remain (mostly) employed the same as outright loss of jobs, despite the calculations I just performed? Methinks not, and here’s why:
1. None of these affected individuals will be filing unemployment or other assistance claims as a result of their involuntary furloughs.
2. The overall impact on other forms of assistance (food banks, homeless shelters, and so forth) is likely to be negligible.
3. Because essential personnel will not be furloughed (the article specifically mentions medical personnel and police officers, and civilians working in war zones as exempt), those affected will actually go from working 5-day weeks to 4-day weeks for the period from July 8 through September 27 — 12 weeks, so 12 days total — and will experience a 20% pay cut as a consequence.
No doubt, this will be a hardship for the individuals and their families who must give up part of their normal income as a result of the sequester. I know that if I had to accept a similar pay cut, I wouldn’t be happy about it, but I could find a way to make it work. I can only hope this doesn’t serve as a tipping point into deeper debt or bankruptcy for too many of the public servants who fall under this umbrella. But I don’t think it’s going to have anywhere near the same impact on the national economy as would the outright layoff of nearly 29,000 workers. In fact, I’ll be curious to see if it registers on the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ employment radar at all. Although it’s a bitter pill for those DoD civilians and their families to swallow, I have to believe it’s not as traumatic as cutting jobs outright. Let’s hope that the politicians can get this sorted out before another fiscal year gets too far underway in October 2013 and beyond.