Opinion

JOHN STOSSEL: Government Shutdown Threat Begs the Question -- Just Who Is an 'Essential Worker'?

The handwringing continues over who is an “essential” government worker.

This was on Twitter yesterday: @Gary__Austin Gary Austin: I work at a VA Medical Center, I was told, that office people were non-essential. Nurses, Dr's, Janitors, & etc had to work.

I understand why government workers are anxious, but wonder why the rest of us should be.

If government shuts down, Americans will notice because the media will do lots of stories on disappointed museum visitors and traveler who can’t get a passport. But without the media hype, I doubt that most people would notice, because so much of what today’s government does doesn’t need doing.

For example, will you really miss the Government Printing Office’s comic books? You paid $5 to have the government publish “Squeaks”, a comic book that is supposed to get kids interested in printing. I doubt that they sell many, but even if they do, you lose money on each one. They sell them for $5, but government manages to spend more than $10 on each comic book.

During the last government shutdown in 1995, most government jobs were deemed “essential.” There were 2.92 million federal employees then--excluding the military

A mere 800,000 government employees were deemed “nonessential." 

∙ 99 percent at Housing and Urban Development
∙ 89 percent at the Department of Education
∙ 75 percent at the Labor Department
∙ 72 percent at the Department of the Interior
∙ 67 percent at the Commerce Department
∙ 59 percent at the Small Business Administration

Why do those jobs even exist? We certainly don’t need to spend $90 billion per year for an Education Department. Education is a local responsibility. Shipping money from states to Washington so Washington can scarf some money off the top and then ship the money back to states hasn’t helped educate kids. Test scores remain dismal. Republicans once talked about eliminating the entire department. But now even Paul Ryan’s proposal doesn’t do that. Once government acquires fat, that fat is very hard to cut.

As a shutdown looms, the media like to highlight popular things in their reports. They focus on shutdowns that will affect some of the following:
∙ cleanup at toxic waste sites
∙ 368 National Park Service sites
∙ national museums and monuments
∙ passport applications/visa applications
∙ accepting new clinical research patients
∙ services for veterans, including health care
∙ the ATF: processing of alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and explosives applications

Sure, we like those things. But there’s much more that’s totally useless. How about most of Michelle Obama’s staff? Eleanor Roosevelt had a staff of only two -- Bess Truman had 3. Michelle Obama has 24

John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. The show airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. and midnight ET. It re-airs Fridays at 10 p.m., Saturdays at 9 p.m. and 12 midnight, and Sundays at 10 p.m. (all times eastern). He's also the author of "Give Me a Break" and of "Myth, Lies, and Downright Stupidity." 

To find out more about John Stossel, visit his "John Stossel's Take" blog and his website at johnstossel.com.

John Stossel is the author of "No They Can't! Why Government Fails -- But Individuals Succeed." Click here for more information on John Stossel.