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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Jobless Care Act -- Review & Outlook, The Wall Street Journal

Congress's budget office says ObamaCare will increase unemployment.

There are 7.8 million Americans working part-time who want full-time work, including a fry cook whose restaurant cut his hours to avoid Affordable Care Act mandates and confronted President Obama in an online Google GOOG +0.42% Q&A last week: "We can't survive. It's not a living." Mr. Obama changed the subject to raising the minimum wage. But he can't dodge reality forever as the evidence piles up that ObamaCare is harming the labor market.

On Tuesday no less than the Congressional Budget Office reported that the health law is causing Americans to work less or not at all, in a remarkable intellectual turnabout for the budget shop that Democrats cited repeatedly when selling ObamaCare. Now CBO—full of liberal-leaning economists—says the economy will lose the equivalent of two million full-time workers by 2017 and 2.5 million over the next decade, a threefold increase over its prior estimate. 

CBO's analysis is rooted in ObamaCare's complex design that includes new subsidies, taxes and mandates. For low-wage, lower-skilled or discouraged workers in particular, ObamaCare offers incentives that can force them to trade jobs for entitlement benefits.

CBO's conclusion is that ObamaCare will encourage people to supply less labor by deciding not to take a job or by working fewer hours. The law's insurance subsidies are gradually taken away as income rises, "creating an implicit tax on additional earnings," the CBO observes. These effective marginal tax rates reduce the rewards for work—whether it be overtime, accepting a promotion, or training in the hope of higher future earnings. CBO doesn't note, though we will, that simply extending "free" coverage skews job search decisions by offering an in-kind bonus for unemployment.

CBO's job-loss prediction is all the more remarkable because it doesn't include the impact of ObamaCare's employer mandate, which requires businesses with 50 or more full-time employees to offer insurance or pay a $2,000 penalty for each worker beyond 30 employees. CBO more or less punts on the issue because the White House delayed the mandate for a year and the changes would be hard to model. But this means CBO is probably still underestimating job losses because common sense says that labor mandates raise hiring costs and induce businesses to hire less, or pay lower wages, or slash hours, or all three.
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