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?