When I retired five years ago, I did not “lose” my job. Nobody fired me or laid me off or put me on furlough. I simply stopped working because I wanted to. I withdrew my contribution to the total supply of labor in the country.
However, in the minds of Republicans and other right-wingers exploiting the latest Congressional Budget Office report that discusses the effects of the Affordable Care Act on the labor market, my decision not to work is actually a job loss. Hooey.
Although there is plenty of lying—yes, lying—and misinforming going on in terms of what the CBO report said, I chose this headline from a Fox “News” article on the matter to represent the lies and misinformation:
More hooey. That CBO report, which is titled, “The Budget and Economic Outlook: 2014 to 2024,” did not—I repeat: did not—say that the ACA could lead to “nearly 2.3 million” job losses. And although it is nice to see that conservatives, after years of bashing the CBO’s reports, are now embracing the nerds’ number-crunching skills, those cherry-picking right-wingers should actually read the report.
First of all, it should be noted that the portion of the CBO’s budget analysis that deals with the future labor effects of the ACA is, like the rest of the projections in the document, an “estimate.” And it is not just an estimate, it is an estimate essentially (but certainly not entirely) of what real people, including many low-income people or people approaching retirement age, will do in the face of getting help from the government to purchase health insurance. Thus, that CBO estimate is based on suppositions about human psychology. Keep that in mind when you hear the hysteria coming from Republicans (or when you hear the good news below).
Secondly, we are not talking about a reduction in the demand for labor, but a reduction in the supply of labor. You know, sort of like when I reduced the supply of labor by retiring five years ago. There was still a demand for my (excellent) services, but I chose not to supply them. As I said, that’s not the same thing as a job loss. By the way, I just heard Douglas Elmendorf, Director of the CBO, say the same thing in testimony before the House Budget Committee.*
There are already a lot of great articles out there that explain what is going on (here and here and here and here, for instance). The following is an excerpt from an excellent report on the subject from the Los Angeles Times:
The CBO projects that the act will reduce the supply of labor, not the availability of jobs. There’s a big difference. In fact, it suggests that aggregate demand for labor (that is, the number of jobs) will increase, not decrease; but that many workers or would-be workers will be prompted by the ACA to leave the labor force, many of them voluntarily.
As economist Dean Baker points out, this is, in fact, a beneficial effect of the law, and a sign that it will achieve an important goal. It helps “older workers with serious health conditions who are working now because this is the only way to get health insurance. And (one for the family-values crowd) many young mothers who return to work earlier than they would like because they need health insurance. This is a huge plus.”
Democrats should continue to aggressively counter the right-wing messaging on this latest CBO report (we can’t count on journalists to get the story straight, what with their “they said, they said” reporting in which telling a lie is on an equal footing with telling the truth). And Democrats, following economist Dean Baker, should enthusiastically embrace the fact that what may happen (remember: it is an estimate) is that the ACA will actually do what it was designed to do. Just before President Obama signed the ACA into law in March of 2010, he said,
And we have now just enshrined, as soon as I sign this bill, the core principle that everybody should have some basic security when it comes to their health care.
Basic security. Yes! The kind that may allow Dean Baker’s “older worker”—who has a serious health condition and needs health insurance provided by an employer—to opt out of the work force, or Baker’s “young mother” to stay at home and take care of her children. What family-values-hawking Republican could be against that?
Judging by their hatred of the Affordable Care Act, apparently every one of them.
* UPDATE: Here is what Elmendorf said:
If someone comes up to you and says, ‘Well, the boss said I’m being laid off because we don’t have enough business to pay me,’ that person feels bad about that and we sympathize with them for having lost their job. If someone comes to you and says, ‘I’ve decided to retire,’ or ‘I’ve decided to stay home and spend more time with my family,’ or ‘I’ve decided to spend more time doing my hobby’ –- they don’t feel bad about it, they feel good about it. And we don’t sympathize, we say congratulations. And we don’t say they’ve lost their job, we say they’ve chosen to leave their job.