Federal Workers Taking Odd Jobs To Make Ends Meet During Shutdown

Federal employees affected by the partial government shutdown are turning to various side jobs to make ends meet, according to the Associated Press

Some, such as immigration lawyer Cheryl Inzunza Blum of Tucson has been renting out a room on Airbnb for extra cash - capitalizing on the busy winter travel season in Arizona after she stopped receiving paychecks for her government contract work at a local immigration lawyer. She says she's working for free since she has clients who depend on her - some of whom are detained or have court hearings. 

Cheryl Inzunza Blum

But she also has bills: her Arizona state bar dues, malpractice insurance and a more than $500 phone bill for the past two months because she uses her phone so heavily for work. Blum bills the government for her work, but the office that pays her hasn’t processed any paychecks to her since before the shutdown began. So she’s been tapping every source she can to keep herself afloat — even her high school- and college-aged children — and is even thinking about driving for Uber and Lyft as well. -AP

"So after working in court all day I’m going to go home and get the room super clean because they’re arriving this evening," she said, referring to her Airbnb renters. 

"I have a young man who’s visiting town to do some biking, and he’s going to come tomorrow and stay a week," she added. "I’m thrilled because that means immediate money. Once they check in, the next day there’s some money in my account."

Other federal workers are driving for Uber, turning to handyman work, and looking for traditional temporary gigs in order to help pay the bills during the longest shutdown in US history. 

Fortunately for unpaid federal workers, the shutdown is happening during a relatively strong economy. 

The Labor Department reported that employers posted 6.9 million jobs in November, the latest figures available. That’s not far from the record high of 7.3 million reached in August.

Roughly 8,700 Uber driver positions are advertised nationwide on the SnagAJob website, while Lyft advertises about 3,000.

But the gig economy doesn’t pay all that well — something the furloughed government workers are finding out. -AP

48-year-old Chris George of Hemet, California has been driving for Lyft after going unpaid from his job as a forestry technician supervisor for the US Department of Agriculture forest service. He averages around $10 for every hour he drives, not including gas. 

Fortunately for George, he is about to receive $450 in weekly unemployment benefits, however they haven't kicked in yet so he's taking jobs as a handyman or whatever else is available. 

"I’ve just been doing side jobs when they come along," George said on Monday. "I had two last week, and I don’t know what this week’s going to bring."

Another furloughed worker, George Jankowski, has been receiving $100 per week in unemployment, however he says it's barely enough to get by. On Monday, he helped a friend move out of a third-floor apartment in Cheyenne, Wyoming - making $30. Jankowski, an Air Force veteran, works at a USDA call center and does not expect to receive back pay due to the fact that he's paid hourly as a part-time employee.

George Jankowski

He calls the situation "grueling." 

"It’s embarrassing to ask for money to pay bills or ask to borrow money to, you know, eat," he told AP

Recruiters are taking advantage of the shutdown

Several employers have been taking advantage of the shutdown to try and hire workers, at least temporarily. 

Missy Koefod of the Atlanta-based cocktail-mixer manufacturer 18.21 Bitters said the company needs temporary help in the kitchen, retail store and getting ready for a trade show, and decided to put out the word to furloughed federal workers on social media that they were hiring.

“I can’t imagine not getting paid for a couple of weeks,” Koefod said.

American Labor Services, a staffing agency that employs 500 people a week in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, sent out an appeal to furloughed federal workers on Monday, asking them to get in touch for clerical or light-industrial work. -AP

"Some might not realize that they could get something temporary, it could last for a short period," said American Labor Services CEO, Ben Kaplan.