[Reuters]

The U.S. government shutdown has divided hundreds of thousands of workers into those classified as critically important and others seen as less so, bruising egos and leaving many grappling with the financial toll of unpaid leave.

“I’m heading in to be non-essential,” said one Environmental Protection Agency worker on the metro transit system on Tuesday as she joined many others going to work just to cancel meetings, lock up files and set out-of-office messages on email and voice mail.

The U.S. government shut down for the first time in 17 years after Congress failed to agree on a budget, splitting federal workers into a painful pecking order of “essential” employees who have to keep working and “non-essential” workers sent on unpaid leave.

Some 800,000 to 1 million federal employees nationally are expected to be furloughed because of the shutdown. They will be required to suspend work-related activity, including checking email or using work-issued phones and laptops, until lawmakers break the political stalemate and pass a spending bill.

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