Government Shut Down
It seems that every few months someone on the news is reporting that the government is in imminent danger of shutting down. Currently, the threat is that the government could shut down by December 11th over a fight about Planned Parenthood funding. The consequences of this can be disastrous for some people, while others will get along just fine without the federal government for a few months.
Government shutdowns have occurred multiple times all over the world, but they have been historically rare in the United States. Nonetheless, when they happen it seems that everyone panics and predicts the end of civilization as we know it. In fact, the federal government has shut down fifteen times over the past couple of decades. Each shutdown has lasted an average of three days, but there have been several shutdowns that have lasted over a week. Each time, however, despite what the media said, it has never meant the end of western civilization.
In fact, most people won't notice any changes in their day-to-day lives if the federal government shuts down. If you're not dependent on the government for a check and you don't need an immediate service such as getting a passport, it's very possible that you'll be able to keep living your life with very little to no change for a while.
On the other hand, you expect a check from the government each month in exchange for work, you'll probably notice the effects of a government shutdown immediately. If you work for a company that has the government as a client or you need a federal service, you'll notice the effects within a few weeks.
Fortunately, people who depend on Social Security and other government payments that are dispersed automatically will probably not notice the effects right away. These payments are considered "essential" and typically do not stop unless there is some type of glitch that would take an employee to correct. Take note that if you need to change, start, or stop payments, however, that this will not be possible.
What are the odds?
While shut downs don't happen often on a federal level, they still happen. Furthermore, state and local governments can also shut down, and these shut downs tend to last a lot longer than a federal government shut down. The current threat from House Republicans is believed to be relatively low. While there are several politicians who want to look like they're taking a stand, government shut downs tend to be very unpopular with the general public, particularly swing voters. That makes them very risky during an election year.