ST. LOUIS – Andrea Caviedes and her friend, Ximena Gumpel, live in the St. Louis suburbs, have two children and helped plan a Christmas party together, but when it comes to the partial federal shutdown, now finishing its third week, they might as well live in different countries.
Caviedes, 42, a furloughed bilingual loan processor in the Agriculture Department's rural development program, spent the week visiting her church's food pantry, applying for unemployment insurance and job hunting at Walmart and Walgreens.
"It has been terrible," said Caviedes, a single mother whose 10-year-old son is partially blind and autistic. "My rent bill is due, my electric bill is due, my water bill is due, and I have medical expenses."
For Gumpel, 46, whose husband works at a chemical company, the shutdown is no more than a recurring segment on the nightly news. She feels for her friend, but "it hasn't affected me at all," she said. "You kind of push it aside and figure it will pass, that it's just political bickering."
After all, the schools are still open, the mail is still being delivered, the trash is still being picked up, the buses are still running and her family's income is uninterrupted.
The shutdown's day-to-day effect on Americans — both federal employees and the people who depend on the services they provide — shifts radically from workplace to workplace and neighbor to neighbor. On one side of the divide, the shutdown is inescapable; on the other, it is all but invisible.
Some large-scale ordeals, like a recession, are pervasive, quickly gumming up the economy's gears and seeping into the national psyche. But the fallout from this stoppage is wildly uneven, zigzagging across communities in unexpected ways, and fracturing Americans' reactions to the shutdown as well as the ways they experience it.
Some reverberations depend on location. The shutdown touches one quarter of the federal government. The District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia have large concentrations of federal employees, but about four-fifths of the roughly 800,000 of them who are not being paid live and work outside the capital's orbit. Thousands are in crowded urban areas in populous states like California, New York, Texas and Florida. Thousands more are in smaller cities and remote areas, where they often power the local economy, spending their paychecks at restaurants, gas stations, nail salons and stores.
The scattershot nature of what is funded and what is not is also varying the experience of public-sector workers and private citizens. Agencies including the Pentagon, Veterans Affairs and Social Security are operating because of appropriations bills that already passed. Others like Homeland Security, Justice, State, Interior, Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, Environmental Protection and Commerce are not.
So military bases are open, Social Security checks are going out, and GI benefits are being processed. But farmers affected by the tariffs are unable to apply for emergency aid; tenants who depend on federal housing subsidies to cover their rent are facing eviction; private contractors working for the federal government are not getting paid, and rural homeowners and businesses who need a mortgage extension or guarantee cannot get one.
Depending on who is providing the cash or sponsoring the research, colleagues who normally work side-by-side have vastly different prospects.
Rick Willenberg, 31, who earns a $41,000 a year as a loan processor for the rural development program, is worrying about how to pay his own mortgage.
"It's so arbitrary," he said. He had never applied for unemployment insurance, but when he heard President Donald Trump say the shutdown could go on for "months or even years," he said, "I thought I better go ahead and file."
Both he and his older brother, Steve Willenberg — who lives in a nearby suburb — were drawn to work for the government out of a sense of civic duty, nurtured by a mother who is a nurse and a father who worked for General Motors. "We live pretty identical lives," Rick said.
Except that the Department of Veterans Affairs, where Steve works, is funded. So while his younger brother protested the furlough outside the federal office complex in wind-whipped weather, Steve was enjoying the last day of his scheduled paid vacation in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.