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Why the government shutdown heightens personal safety concerns

If you were forced to work without pay, how long could you survive? Most Americans don’t have $400 saved up in case of emergency. For the more than 800,000 federal employees who are now entering their second straight month without income, the situation is getting increasingly dire.

There has been a lot of news coverage about federal employees’ economic straits. Across the country, federal workers are facing mounting bills they can’t pay, turning to food shelves for groceries and grappling with the idea that they may have to sell their homes.

But financial instability isn’t a problem that exists in isolation. It has a ripple effect into every area of life—with implications on public safety as well.

Researchers recently conducted a study examining the correlation between financial precarity and workplace accidents. From a group of more than 1,000 professional truck drivers, it found that workers with financial stress at home tended to be more distracted at work. This preoccupation caused a significantly higher percentage of truck drivers to be involved in accidents on the job.

The results of this study point to two safety concerns with regards to the government shutdown:

First, the study shows that workers with financial stress are more likely to be inattentive in their work and make mistakes on the job. The federal employees who are currently being forced to work for free are considered “essential”—because their work involves protecting American lives or property. In the case of these federal employees, such mistakes could compromise national security.

Second, the study shows that financial stress is all-consuming. It follows you wherever you go, in all of your daily activities. Therefore, it is likely that federal employees’ anxiety over money may lead to increased distraction and mistakes in other aspects of life. This may lead to higher rates of distracted driving accidents and other personal injuries.

The partial government shutdown is creating devastating consequences for hundreds of thousands of employees across the country. Ultimately, though, it’s making us all less safe.

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