This week, a veteran diplomat will do two jobs:
She will analyze the affairs of a country undergoing major political and economic upheaval for the U.S. State Department.
And she will review a new eyeliner, extolling its “precise, no-mess application” and noting that it “does not clump or break.”
She will get paid for only one of the jobs.
Yup, the eyeliner review.
Welcome, America, to the shutdown side hustle.
The State Department officer — who agreed to talk to me on the condition of anonymity — will continue working on the global balance of power without getting paid for it. But she will also continue writing paid product reviews and work as a pet sitter, bartender or, at $5 a pop, your notary public.
It’s the only way she’ll be able to pay all her bills.
More than two weeks into one of the longest government shutdowns in U.S. history, under a president who threatens to drag it out “for a very long period of time — months or even years,” federal workers are testing the shark-infested waters of the herky-jerky, eat-what-you-kill gig economy by finding side hustles to make ends meet.
They’re hiring themselves out as dog walkers or editors. Some are offering cheap language lessons or working as babysitters. A gig here, a contract there.
Like any good empire in its waning, sunset years, we’re on the road to becoming a nation of hustlers, scrappers and scavengers.
Your turn, federal workers, to join more than a third of our workforce — that’s 57 million Americans — who are duking it out in the gig economy. No benefits, no security. But at least there’s cash and the hope of back pay at some point down the road.
The most despicable twist is served up to people like the eyeliner reviewer, whose work at State is deemed so essential to the nation’s security that she was ordered back to work this week. Without a paycheck for now.
So to earn any income, she has to juggle weighty diplomatic and military matters with her side gigs.
The side hustles gave her a little hope that she could scramble to make ends meet while President Trump holds his breath — and more than 800,000 workers hostage — to respond to a campaign chant: “Build that wall!”
But the side gigs seem less viable now that she’s been ordered back into the office.
“So now I’m discouraged and depressed,” she said. “I’m feeling helpless, scared and worried. Really worried about my upcoming bills and how I’m going to triage all this, how to plead with mortgage companies.”
Some veterans of government shutdowns are using this period to throw themselves into their Plan B.
Check out this ad on Craigslist:
“The federal government handed me lemons in the form of a shutdown, so I’m making lemonade by offering a discount to new clients of my own company as a freelancer while my day job is on hiatus,” an editor and writer offered. “I have three decades of experience. If you have a rush job in the coming days, get a 15 percent discount on my normal rates during the shutdown! I’m also an FAA-certified drone pilot and am offering the same discount for aerial imagery (available only in authorized airspace).”
But here are the most depressing ones, the scrappers.
There’s the experienced eBay dealer offering to help federal workers make some extra cash.
“With the furloughs and increasing prices, you may have Christmas or Holiday presents that are brand new, never used, but that you don’t want and cannot return,” the merchant’s ad says. “I would love to sell your unwanted electronics, collectibles, house hold items, coins, gold and silver for you.”
Or the nonessential government guy who clearly looked around his Kensington home for stuff he can sell. The big TV.
“Down on his luck government worker selling off major electronics. For you special price,” he wrote in his Craigslist ad. “Come and get it before NFL playoffs begin.” Only $50.
And then there’s this heartbreaker. A government worker in Upper Marlboro who has listed a string of children’s toys and furniture. Those kid-size easy chairs and stuffed animals.
“We need money for bills,” is the tagline on her series of Craigslist ads. One is headlined: “IKEA play tunnel. *Government shutdown. Asking $2 OBO.”
Is this great, America? Or something far from it?