Start Getting Ready for the Next Government Shutdown

Start Getting Ready for the Next Government Shutdown
A Park Service officer carries closure signs in front of the Lincoln Memorial due to a partial government shut down in Washington on Oct. 1
Photograph by Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg

It’s no secret: the government shutdown is now in its 10th day. And we know these shutdowns are anything but rare—this is the 18th shutdown since 1976, when a revised budgeting process was implemented.

Eighteen shutdowns in 37 years—that’s an average of one shutdown every two years. Of course, not all shutdowns are created equal—some last much longer than others.

As you can see here, most shutdowns have lasted five days or less:

The 2013 shutdown is included here as well, at 10 days.

By visualizing this data on a scatterplot, we can run a trendline to show us the general pattern between length of shutdowns and their frequency:

The red squares indicate the true shutdown data. The blue line is the average trend—how often we should see shutdowns lasting various lengths.

We can learn a lot from this chart. In a 37-year period like the one we have experienced, we should expect to see:

• Three shutdowns of 2 days length, or once every 12 years.
• Two shutdowns of 4 days length, or once every 18 years.
• One shutdown of 20 days length, or once every 37 years.

By extending the line further out, we can extrapolate the chances of record-length shutdowns in the future:

• A 40-day shutdown should happen 0.7 times every 37 years—or more plainly, once every 53 years.
• A 64-day shutdown should happen 0.6 times every 37 years, or once every 62 years.

With such a small sample size, these projections are not expected to be precisely accurate but are more indicative of general trends reflected in the data. Don’t be surprised if one day in our lifetimes, we do see a shutdown that lasts two full months. The numbers say it might just happen.

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