The Affordable Care Act gave some people the freedom to leave full-time jobs.WASHINGTON ― More Americans than ever are voluntarily working part time, and it might be because of Obamacare.
The number of Americans who are electing to work less than full time rose to 21 million in July, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which uses a survey of thousands of households to measure the unemployment rate and other economic indicators. People working fewer than 35 hours per week who didn’t want more hours are considered part-time for “noneconomic reasons,” which can include childcare or school needs.
HuffPost has also undertaken a survey on work hours since 2014, and found this year that 16 percent of respondents said they would trade an extra day off each week in exchange for a 20 percent cut in pay. The latest HuffPost/YouGov poll shows a small drop in the number of people who would take that trade compared to two years ago, when 20 percent of survey respondents said they would. The drop could reflect the fact that fewer people would trade pay for time because more of them have already successfully reduced their work hours.
Obamacare is the likely reason. Since major provisions of the Affordable Care Act took effect in 2014, there has been a surge in voluntary part-time employment ― an increase of nearly 10 percent, according to the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research. The Center’s Dean Baker and Cherrie Bucknor argued in a March paper that “the jump in voluntary part-time work following the implementation of the ACA is without precedent and cannot plausibly be attributed to other factors.”
Obamacare’s protections make it safer for people to ditch full-time jobs they may have held only for the health insurance ― something experts expected the law would do and that Republicans heavily criticized.
“In my view that’s a really good story,” Baker said in an interview. “None of the Democrats seem to want to talk about that.”
The Congressional Budget Office previously predicted that new insurance subsidies would result in the equivalent of 2 million fewer jobs in the American economy by 2021, since millions of people would be more able to reduce their hours or stop working altogether.
Republicans seized on the CBO’s forecast as evidence Obamacare would destroy jobs. The budget office had said, however, that the reduced employment would be caused by workers happily deciding to provide less labor, not by the more familiar scourge of layoffs due to poor economic conditions.
Voluntary part-time employment is not the kind of part-time work typically decried by politicians and economists. About 5 million Americans work part time involuntarily ― for “economic reasons,” as the Bureau of Labor Statistics puts it ― meaning their hours had been reduced or they couldn’t find full-time positions. Such involuntary part-timers are considered underemployed, but voluntary part-timers are not.
Reducing the hours of work used to be a primary goal of the American labor movement, which won the 40-hour week in the early part of the 20th century after decades of struggle. Since then, however, the primary demand has been higher wages.
In the HuffPost/YouGov survey, people with higher incomes were likelier to say they’d be willing to trade some pay for more time off.
Nearly 30 percent of Americans in households making $100,000 or more each year said that they’d be willing to sacrifice 20 percent of their paycheck for another day off. Just 15 percent of those in households making under $50,000 said the same.
“Once their household makes over $100,000 they seem to be a little more time constrained, and conversely if they make less than $50,000 the more pressing constraint is their income,” Lonnie Golden, a professor of economics at Penn State Abington, said in an interview.
Not everyone who reduced their hours in the last year did so because they no longer needed health insurance from their job. Sabrina Hogan of Austell, Georgia, quit her full-time job in May just because she didn’t like the work.
“I gave my two weeks notice and got the hell out of there,” Hogan, 50, said in an interview. She added that she’s currently uninsured and not thrilled about it. Her husband still works full time.
Now Hogan works part time as a cashier at a Publix supermarket. She also drives for Uber and volunteers at an animal shelter.
She said she loves the freedom of a flexible schedule.
“There’s more to life than just working all the time,” Hogan said.