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Commentary: The False Hysteria Over ‘Part-Time Nation’

Wall Street Journal (10/14/13) Ezekiel Emanuel; Andrew Steinmetz

Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, chairman of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, and his senior research assistant Andrew Steinmetz assert in this opinion piece that the claim that Obamacare is turning the U.S. into a “nation of part-time workers” is a fallacy. The law’s detractors say the employer mandate gives a company with 51-plus employees an incentive to transform a 40-hour-a-week worker into a 29-hour-a-week worker to evade the mandate and penalty.

However, according to research by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, in 2013, 19.5% of the work force is part-time. The authors admit this is a high proportion, but say it is not unprecedented. In the recoveries from the recessions of 1982-83 and 1990-91, the share of part-time work was also high. In 1983 it was above 20%. More than two-thirds of current part-time workers claim they work part-time voluntarily. The San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank concluded in August that the tepid economic recovery is responsible for the large percentage of part-time workers. Emanuel and Steinmetz add that “the share of workers who are working part-time due to a cutback of hours is actually declining steadily as we get further away from the Great Recession—not increasing as we get close to implementation of the employer mandate. In 2009, that share was about 5%. Today it is just over 3%.”