The government shutdown spotlights a bigger issue: 78% of US workers live paycheck to paycheck

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The partial government shutdown, which began Dec. 22, has now stretched well into the new year. President Donald Trump said Friday that it would continue for "months or even years" until he receives the requested $5 billion in funding for a border wall.

The shutdown has left approximately 800,000 federal workers in financial limbo. Around 420,000 "essential" employees are working without pay, while another 380,000 have been ordered to stay home, according to calculations provided to CNBC by Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University.

In some cases, the furloughs have forced government employees to tap into their savings, rely on credit cards or crowdsource funds to make ends meet.

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Government workers are far from alone in feeling stressed about not getting paid. Nearly 80 percent of American workers (78 percent) say they're living paycheck to paycheck, according to a 2017 report by employment website CareerBuilder. Women are particularly vulnerable: 81 percent of them report living paycheck to paycheck, compared with 75 percent of men.

Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, tells CNBC that the group has heard from hundreds of frantic federal employees. "They're scared," he says. "They don't know how they're going to put food on the table."

Various #ShutdownStories making that point have gone viral on Twitter.

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It's not merely those earning low wages who are struggling. CareerBuilder reports that nearly 10 percent of Americans with salaries of $100,000 or more live paycheck to paycheck as well.

That means that many workers aren't able to put anything significant into savings. More than 50 percent of respondents say that they save less than $100 per month. And a comparable 2017 survey from GOBankingRates found that 61 percent of Americans don't have enough money in an emergency fund to cover six months' worth of expenses.

They're scared. They don't know how they're going to put food on the table.
Tony Reardon
president of the National Treasury Employees Union

Debt is also a growing issue for workers, CareerBuilder reports. Just more than 70 percent of all respondents say that they're in debt, and a quarter of workers say they weren't able to make ends meet at the end of every month of the past year.

Federal workers may not get relief anytime soon. The shutdown is inching closer to the 21-day record set during the Clinton administration, which stretched from part of 1995 into 1996. And while furloughed employees are likely to receive back pay for their weeks out of work, the approximate 4.1 million contractors who are also affected will not be compensated.

Many of these contractors are forced to collect unemployment or look for other jobs.

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