In a debate on the (great) Diane Rehm show yesterday (around minute 43 of the broadcast), the argument was made that Obamacare was leading employers to move full-time workers onto part-time schedules to avoid the employer mandate. I pointed out that this is inconsistent with the evidence shown below, i.e., the fall in the number of involuntary part-time workers since the Affordable Care Act has been in place.
If Obamacare were pushing people into part-time work, we would expect an increase in involuntary part-time work (part-timers who want to work full time) and a decline in voluntary part-time work. The figure shows both measures, indexed to 100 at the beginning of 2012. As you see, the opposite has occurred: involuntary part-timers are down sharply, by 20% over the past few years while voluntary part-timers are up by about 5%. In fact, since the employer mandate began to phase in starting this year, the decline in involuntary part-timers has accelerated, again, contrary to the prediction by the ACA repealers.
As I stressed in the back-and-forth, such an incentive exists in the law, and so you have to look at the data to see if and how it’s playing out. And this is an admittedly aggregate look–as the job market has notably improved and labor demand has strengthened, we’d expect the stock of involuntary part-timers to fall. But then you can’t claim Obamacare is killing the job market if the job market is getting better at a faster pace now, can you?
BTW, one reason why this result should not surprise you is that the set of workers vulnerable to the negative incentive is actually quite small. My colleague Paul Van de Water points out that “only about 7 percent of employees work 30 to 34 hours a week (and thus would be easiest for employers to shift below 30 hours). Moreover, less than one-half of 1 percent of employees work 30 to 34 hours a week and are employed by businesses affected by the employer mandate and do not have insurance.”
I recently wrote about the serious problem in US economic debates where those with non-credible arguments hold far too much sway in some of our most important debates. This is increasingly the case in particular with Obamacare. As journalist Jonathan Weisman commented after this exchange wherein my opponent wouldn’t back down, facts just don’t seem to be winning the day on this issue. People know what they know, and they don’t want to be bothered with any of your damn evidence!
If the program continues to increase affordable coverage and hold down the growth of health costs, I expect that to change, though that outcome depends non-trivially on a SCOTUS with a number of judges who make me nail-bitingly nervous.