Obamacare Hasn’t Put Americans Out of Work

New federal jobs report doesn't support claim that the Affordable Care Act will decrease full-time employment

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One of the most-cited arguments made by opponents of Obamacare is that the law is bad for business. The Affordable Care Act requires that companies with more than 50 full-time workers provide health insurance and the law’s critics have faulted this provision for accelerating a trend of businesses scaling back hours and eliminating full-time jobs in favor of part-time positions. Writing in the Detroit News in September, Republican Rep. Mike Rogers said the health care law had caused an “unsettling trend of a permanent part-time workforce.” CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo said as recently as Sunday the health care law was transforming the U.S. into a “part-time employment country.”

The problem with this line of thought was that there wasn’t any good evidence to support it. And a new federal jobs report released Tuesday shows that Obamacare’s effect on employment is not what its critics have claimed.

After an uptick in part-time work earlier this year, which Republicans seized on to attack the law, the new jobs report shows that, for the second straight month, the number of part-time jobs reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics fell. In September, 691,000 full-time jobs were added to the economy while 594,000 part-time jobs went away. The average workweek remained about 35 hours. Plus, as Ben Casselman points out in the Wall Street Journal, part-time employees were actually working more hours in recent months, and because of differences in the way the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the ACA define “part-time,” there’s no evidence the law has had any impact on part-time employment over the past year. Part-time employment nationwide is higher than before the recession started in 2008, but that trend began before Obamacare became law in 2010. In addition, the health care law’s requirement that employers provide health insurance to full-time workers, doesn’t even begin until 2015.

Many economists have been saying as much for some time. Brad DeLong, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, said in August that while Obamacare may motivate firms to rely more on part-time workers at some point in the future, there’s no evidence this has happened yet. Of an Obamacare-related uptick in part-time employment, Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody’s told USA Today, also in August:

“I was expecting to see it. I was looking for it, and it’s not there,” says Zandi, whose firm manages ADP’s surveys of overall private-sector job creation. If the Affordable Care Act “were causing a drop, you would see meaningful slowing.”

Writing in Business Insider in July, investment banker Daniel Alpert noted that the growth of part-time jobs has happened in sectors where most work is already part-time, as opposed to rising in sectors where it has traditionally been full-time. Alpert concluded:

Anecdotal Obamacare-scare stories abound, but they seem pretty specious at best….There is no empirical evidence that hiring practices relate to concerns over benefits, and a heck of a lot of evidence that the people being hired for new jobs are earning less than workers already employed and that the jobs that a significant proportion of jobs being created are not full time because of the sectors they are in. If the Obamacare hiring meme were accurate, the tendency game the law would be to game the system by hiring people to work just under the 30 hour “full time” cut off under the act. But that does not appear to be the case either.

The September jobs report is further evidence to support the case that Obamacare has not caused a national shift toward part-time work. But there was no shortage of examples before the latest numbers, so don’t expect such claims to disappear.