Sarah Burgard shares her concern on the mental health impact of the government shutdown

January 29, 2019

While the longest government shutdown in United States history has ended, many of the 800,000 furloughed federal government employees may have to continue to cope with the devastating effects of temporary unemployment. In her January 24, 2019 article for the Huffington Post, Anna Almendrala explores how beleaguered government workers may suffer prolonged mental health issues as a result of going more than a month without a paycheck.

Even with the promise of back pay after the shutdown, Sarah Burgard, a professor of sociology with an appointment at the Ford School, believes that “even temporary situations like the federal shutdown can have “scarring” effects on well-being.” As bills pile up, credit scores plummet, and healthcare placed at risk, Burgard asserts that “This could yield some of the stressful concerns about financial stability that perceptions of an impending job loss could spark.”

Of even greater concern is the chance that a second shutdown could be on the horizon should President Trump and the Democrats reach a stalemate regarding funding for border security along the Southern border. The prospects for yet another lengthy shutdown “increase their sense of precariousness or fears that additional shutdowns and uncertainty could happen again,” says Burgard.

Compounding the consequences of the most recent shutdown with uncertainty regarding the loss of yet another paycheck yields tremendous anxiety, and even depression, regarding the stability and well-being of one’s livelihood. The “scarring” effect Burgard describes may take even longer for federal workers to heal than the actual shutdown itself.

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Sarah Burgard is an associate professor and the director of graduate studies for UM’s Sociology Department, as well as a professor of public policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. Burgard’s work focuses on how systems of stratification and inequality affect the mental health of people and populations. In this field, Burgard examines the health consequences of inequality regarding race, gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status as well as the consequences regarding maternal and child health.