"In the event of a government shutdown, hundreds of thousands of these dedicated public servants who stay on the job will do so without pay—and several hundred thousand more will be immediately and indefinitely furloughed without pay," the president said. "What, of course, will not be furloughed are the bills that they have to pay—their mortgages, their tuition payments, their car notes."
The 800,000 workers initially affected represent over a third of the more than 2.1 million civilian federal workforce, not including nearly 600,000 at the U.S. Postal Service who aren't affected by the shutdown.
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As the Associated Press pointed out, the original numbers of furloughed workers was "equivalent to the combined workforce of Target, General Motors, Exxon Mobil and Google." The Pentagon's recalling hundreds of thousands of workers is like taking Target and its 361,000 employees off that list.
Purely in terms of numbers, the employees initially affected are roughly equal to the populations of major urban centers such as San Francisco (826,000), Columbus, Ohio (810,000) or Charlotte, N.C. (775,000) and larger than the populations of cities such as Detroit (701,000), Memphis (655,000), Boston (636,000), Seattle (635,000), Denver (634,000) or, yes, Washington, D.C. (632,000). The return of nearly 400,000 Defense workers would leave the furloughed population more on par with cities such as Omaha (422,000), Miami (414,000), Oakland (401,000) Minneapolis (393,000) or Cleveland (391,000).
Those numerical comparisons don't carry through to the economic impact of the furloughs, which economists expect to be fairly modest—about 0.2 percentage points of gross domestic product a week, or about $300 million a day out of the $15.7 trillion annual U.S. economy, according to IHS Global Insight economist Doug Handler.
"You can knock government all you want, but we do assume that they provide a useful role to the economy," Handler says, adding that the economic impact could grow as the shutdown drags on. "If this continues for an extended period of time then the people dependent upon government services, either as in input or as a customer, are going to have more difficulties doing business, will see inefficiencies and may even start laying off other people, and that will increase the 0.2 percent per week impact."