I Got a Job. Then the Government Shut Down.

Ever since the government shutdown started, I’ve been praying every night hoping it will end soon. My teeth hurt because I’ve been grinding them at night (this happens when I get anxious) and I watch the news, hoping for sanity. I haven’t found any yet. What makes this more upsetting is that I’m one of many people that are affected by the shutdown. And I can say this: I’m not sure how economic limbo for someone struggling is making America great again.

Let me backtrack. Three years ago I moved to Fresno, a city where I knew no one. My move was financial: I simply couldn’t afford the Bay Area. My father had also recently moved to Fresno, to their CalVet Home. It wasn’t a perfect solution, but it was a solution.

There weren’t any jobs in my field, so I went to a career counselor. I told him I wasn’t planning on staying in Fresno long since I was going to apply for MFA programs back East. He sat and rubbed his chin for a bit. “The IRS,” he finally said.

“Excuse me?”

“You would be perfect for the IRS. You have a college degree, right?”

“Yes, but I never pictured myself at the IRS. I don’t want to call people and harass them about money.”

“It’s nothing like that. You process mail, setting aside checks. From your work history, you’re very diligent. Let them know you have a disability then you can be on their priority hire list.”

I decided to give it a go and applied. A month later, I found out I was on priority group to be hired once the tax season started. I was fingerprinted and photographed for my badge. I then worked the 2016 tax season.

Because of an oath I took, I cannot tell you about the job itself or what I learned there. I can tell you I worked the swing shift, gained weight because of the wonderful potlucks we had, and that my last paycheck totaled $1,000 for working fifty hours for two weeks straight. In the end, I was exhausted but out of debt. Best of all, I was accepted into grad school in Vermont. I wished the IRS and Fresno goodbye as I went to the land of maple syrup and Bernie Sanders.

I graduated with my MFA. Back to Fresno, where I had to deal with some family issues. As I wrote in my holiday essay, I found myself broke. I applied for some retail, no luck. Ideally, I wanted a job in writing and publishing (my major), but I also wanted to pay off my credit cards and save money for an apartment. I knew I had to put a cotton ball on the wound; otherwise, it could get worse. I applied to the IRS. Again, the process was simple. I was fingerprinted and had my picture taken again. Before Christmas, I found out I had a start date in February. Merry February!

Then the shutdown happened three days before Christmas. Is it just me, or is that just plain out evil? Couldn’t you picture Scrooge (before the Christmas ghosts came to visit) just nodding in approval, saying “Well done, sir. Well done.” I was sick during Christmas, so it didn’t hit me until a week ago that wait, the IRS is the federal government. I might not have a job.

I tried not to panic. The shutdown couldn’t last too long, could it? I mean, both sides had to sit down and figure out a solution. It’s hasn’t happened yet. I wrote to the IRS Human Resources to see if I’d be starting in February. I imagine others are doing the same thing. I haven’t heard yet.

Anybody can tell you I hate limbo. I hate not knowing what’s going to happen. This doesn’t make me a bundle of laughs to live with, let me tell you. I know I’m lucky: as I mentioned before I’ve got a great support system. I know I can ask friends and family if they know of anything else: house sitting, pet watching, what have you. I know I’m lucky. But what about the people who have families, who have to choose between food and dental care? Food stamps are okay now, but if this continues into the spring, what then? I’m sorry, I don’t see how letting children going hungry is winning. Fresno has a high unemployment rate. The IRS seasonal program gives people respite and something to turn to when the going gets tough.

This isn’t about the wall. This is about a man not getting his way, then he decides to hold his breath and turn blue until he gets what he wants. This is about hurting Americans who proudly work for the government. This isn’t about red states or blue states. It’s about people. And people of all colors, races, genders are being hurt.

I wish I could end this essay with a wise epiphany, comforting words implying it will all be okay. To be honest, I don’t know if anything will be okay. That’s the thing about limbo. It robs a person of her fundamental Pollyannaish belief everything will turn out. And all I can do is pray and hope I don’t grind my teeth at night.

Jennifer Kathleen Gibbons has been published in Salon, Stereo Embers, and the anthology Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Empowered Woman. She lives in Central California and is writing a memoir and an essay collection.

Photo credit: Chris Phan, CC BY 2.0.

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