How the CBO Thinks Obamacare Will Kill Jobs

A blog about business and economics.
Feb. 4 2014 1:46 PM

How the CBO Thinks Obamacare Will Kill Jobs

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Happy people may be less inclined to work.

Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

John is 59, has had a good career as a mechanical engineer, has saved pretty diligently his whole life, and also has a chronic heart condition. He's got the cash to retire early, but he's not yet eligible for Medicare. So he needs to keep working more than he wants to for a few more years. Or at least he would have if not for the Affordable Care Act, which makes it feasible for him to buy insurance on the private market and get a jump start on his fishing plans.

Mary is 27 and pregnant. She'd like to start working part time once the baby is born. But even though her husband's company is doing OK it's too small to provide health insurance to its employees. So the family really needs Mary to put in enough hours to qualify for benefits at her office. That is, they would need her to work full time if not for the Affordable Care Act, whose small-business tax credits are going to let her husband's boss start offering insurance.

Those are good stories, right?

Well, certainly I framed them as good stories. Today's Congressional Budget Office update on the state of the labor market frames them as bad stories by estimating that the Affordable Care Act will shrink the size of the American labor force by about 2 million full-time equivalent employees. I just gave you the story of how the ACA will cost the country one and a half FTE jobs. And it sounded like a good story. But aggregate all those happy stories of early retirements and shifts to part-time work, and it can look like a bad story. A society where health insurance is less tied to full-time employment is a society in which more people will choose not to work full time. That is also a society where annual GDP is lower.

All things considered, I still think this is a happy story. Obamacare will kill jobs in the same way that Social Security kills jobs. By making it easier for people in certain circumstances to get by without a job. But your mileage may vary on this. The point, however, is that we're talking about people quitting not about people getting fired.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.