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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press Andrew Puzder Gives Alternative Reality on Obamacare at Wall Street Journal

Andrew Puzder Gives Alternative Reality on Obamacare at Wall Street Journal

Sunday, 13 October 2013 08:00

The Wall Street Journal continues to lead the path in the post-truth world, with columnist Andrew Puzder misrepresenting numbers to show that ObamaCare has led to a "part-time economy." Pudzer's whole story rests on the growth in part-time employment from January to July as measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics household survey. He tells readers:

"The health-care law's actual consequences unequivocally appear in the jobs data for this period. Between Jan. 1 and June 30, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the economy added 833,000 part-time jobs and lost 97,000 full-time jobs, for net creation of 736,000 jobs. In reality, the economy overall added no full-time jobs. Rather, it lost them."

Later adding:

"In August, Keith Hall, who ran the Bureau of Labor Statistics from 2008-12, looked at part-time hiring from the end of January through July and told a McClatchy reporter that the results were 'really remarkable' and 'a really high number for a six-month period. I'm not sure that has ever happened over six months before.""

Wow, Keith Hall can't remember a six-month period where part-time jobs rose by 833,000? How about the six months from June of 2008 to December of 2008 when part-time employment rose by 1,963,000, while full time employment fell by 4,453,000? Is he really not able to remember back five years ago to a period in which he was actually the commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics? Perhaps he didn't count this one because all of that rise in part-time employment was involuntary whereas most of the reported increase in January to July of this year was voluntary.

How about April of 2001 to October of 2001 when part-time employment rose by 1,115,000 (again, all involuntary), while full-time employment fell by 2,053,000? Again, this was all due to a rise in people working part-time involuntarily -- they wanted full-time jobs -- so maybe Hall doesn't count this period either.

In fact these data are highly erratic. They jump around by large amounts month to month due to measurement error, not reasons having anything to do with the economy. For this reason, picking January of 2013 as a starting point is a bit of a joke.

Reported part-time employment fell sharply in the second half of 2012 (because of the ACA?), dropping from 26,623,000 in July of 2012 to 26,049,000 in January of 2013. This drop in the reported number of part-time workers almost certainly did not reflect what was going on in the economy, but was rather just random errors that show up in the data from month to month.

A serious analysis would look at an average level of employment over a series of months, for example comparing the first six months of 2013 (when the employers thought the sanctions would be in effect) with the first six months of 2012. My colleague Helene Jorgenson and I did this analysis. We found a small decline in the percentage of workers who were working less than the 30 hour cut-off that makes employers subject to the mandate. I wouldn't attribute the increase in full-time employment to Obamacare, but at least this claim would have some basis in the data, unlike the complaints in Pudzer's column.

Btw, there is one last point that should be raised. What's wrong with people working part-time? We should be concerned if people want full-time jobs but can only find part-time work. This likely means that they will be struggling to support themselves and their families.

But what is wrong with someone voluntarily choosing to work part-time? Many people opt for part-time employment to be with their family, enjoy a partial retirement, or pursue other activities. Does the WSJ think it has to decide for us how many hours we should work?


Comments (5)Add Comment
written by skeptonomist, October 13, 2013 9:12
See FRED: LNS12032194 part-time employment for economic reasons. This shows clearly how recessions control part-time employment - the rise in 2008-9 was almost five million. There is no rise through this year. Pudzer's claim implies that the BLS is not classifying any changes due to the ACA as "economic".
written by PeonInChief, October 13, 2013 12:38
If there is a problem with employers capping employment at 29 hours per week, there's a simple solution. Indeed many employers who provide insurance to their employees already do this. It's called the pro-rated share of the premium, which requires arithmetic calculations so simple that even I can do them. You simply figure out whether the worker is half-time, three-quarter time or whatever, and then pay that percentage share of the premium for the employee. The employee pays the difference between that sum and the total premium.

Legislation created this problem, and legislation can solve it.
ACA and Labor Laws bad policy
written by robertsalzberg, October 13, 2013 1:16
There is no good policy reason to allow large corporations to not provide health insurance, 401K, vacation or other benefits to workers that are part-time. Stupid labor laws encourage large employers to cap hours for employees in order to avoid paying benefits. The ACA is just one more reason and obviously not as big a reason to employ people part-time.

In the EU, large employers must pay part-time workers benefits based on a pro-rated amount depending on how many hours worked. Maybe one day America will do the same.
written by watermelonpunch, October 14, 2013 2:39
What's wrong with people working part-time?

THANK YOU. It's what I was thinking the whole time I was reading this page up to that point.

This is why I think Dean Baker is the cat's pajamas!

What IS wrong with people working less than 40 hours per week?

We should be concerned if people want full-time jobs but can only find part-time work.

But is that REALLY what we should be concerned about though?
Is it really?

The real problem, I think, is when people are making so little that they can't survive well without working at least 40 hours or more.

It's like there's this attitude being pushed that people should be working more. And more. And more.
While getting paid less. And less. And less.

Well, maybe that's doable for some Wall Street Journal reader, who says they're in the office for 10 hours a day, but 5 of those are spent on personal activities, leisure activities, or outside career pursuits, and gets paid whether they add value to our communities or not.

The problem is not that people are not, or will not be, given enough hours of work.
It's sure not just that they're not being given benefits like health insurance.
(Which, hello, are just a part of wages. And actually a rather poor form of pay, considering that big companies get workers at a discount that way, and health care is way way overpriced in the U.S. so really, being paid in health care is kind of like being ripped off from both sides.)

The problem is that too many people are working hard, and long, and not being paid nearly they're worth, and in some cases not enough to survive. (Many people out here in the real world.)
While other people are barely exerting themselves, often failing at their jobs, and being paid hugely - even after epic fails. (The kind of people featured regularly in Wall Street Journal stories.)

Think honestly for a moment here.
Would you rather work 40 hours per week @ $8.50 per hour?
Or 30 hours per week @ $11.33 per hour?
If that's your choice which would be worth more?

Because that's who they're trying to scare with this.
It's the people being paid far too little who are worried about working "enough hours" to survive, and it's because wages are too low.

So I kind of think that it's not so much that we should be concerned if people can't find full-time work, per se.
We should be concerned when there are a lot of people who can't find work, of any type or durations, that allows them to support themselves reasonably.

Even people whose work is enjoyable, people who are doing things they really love and find fulfillment in, need time to themselves, to spend with family, to socialize, for leisure, and to take care of their physical & mental health.

But now it seems the story being told is that people who have the most thankless, difficult, strenuous, or hazardous jobs, should be working more, and getting less out of life.

So maybe we should get away from this hours obsession already.
Maybe start thinking that people ought to be paid the real value of their worth in contributing to civilization, rather than how many hours they put in or who they know... or how high up they are in the financial sector.

It's a bizarre twisted society that reaches this point of technological advancement, and then decides willingly to not only shirk their responsibility to those less fortunate, and those who have come before them, at a time when it has become so much easier to take care of them... But also to have the majority of citizens, working harder & longer hours than our ancient hunter-gatherer ancestors needed to for survival, when it's not at all necessary.

And on top of that, then suggesting that many should not even partake of the technology available (like flat screen tvs & cell phones, heaven forbid).
Columns like Pudzer's . . .
written by jhand, October 14, 2013 2:18
. . . are not meant to be fact-checked or disputed. They are primarily designed to be quoted on Fox News, CNBC, Fox Business, etc., in order to create an echo chamber of virtual reality. Cf: Rice, Condolezza, "mushroom cloud." New York Times, Cheney, Dick, "Meet the Press," to see how this has been done in the past. Dean, as much as I admire you, do you really think that these bastards care if you or anyone else fact-checks them?
I doubt it.

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.