Here's what really happens during a government shutdown

You've probably been hearing a lot about government shutdowns lately--but what exactly is a shutdown?

A shutdown happens when Congress is unable to agree upon 12 appropriations bills that keep different government agencies funded. Until that happens, Congress can avoid a shutdown by passing what's known as a "continuing resolution." A continuing resolution is a measure in which both sides agree to allow to keep government running for a set period of time with no budgets changes made so negotiations can continue. If Democrats and Republicans cannot agree to a continuing resolution, however, then a shutdown must occur.

When a shutdown happens all "non-essential" employees are sent home. That means many institutions such as national parks, monuments, and museums are closed. Unfortunately, employees of those agencies will have to go without a paycheck, although they typically receive back pay once the shutdown is over.

Essential services like the post office, the TSA, and the military stay up and running no matter what.

The majority of shutdowns are short, with most occurring over the weekend. Longer shutdowns, however, can have major economic consequences. The last major shutdown in 2013 was estimated to cost $24 billion in lost economic activity.