White House: It’s A Good Thing That Obamacare Will Drive 2.5 Million Americans Out Of The Workforce

Forbes – by Avik Roy

Yesterday, Washington’s official non-partisan bean-counter, the Congressional Budget Office, dropped a bomb. By 2024, says the CBO, Obamacare will reduce the size of the U.S. labor force by 2.5 million full-time-equivalent workers. That’s roughly triple what the CBO had estimated three years ago. Such a sizeable decline in the labor force will have substantial detrimental effects on the U.S. economic and fiscal picture. But the CBO wasn’t responsible for the most amazing thing that happened yesterday. That title belongs to the Obama White House, where Press Secretary Jay Carney claimed that 2.5 million Americans leaving the workforce was a good thing, because they would no longer be “trapped in a job.”  

How Obamacare shrinks the labor market

Here’s what happened. In its annual, 182-page Budget and Economic Outlook, the CBO undertook an overhaul of the way it analyzes the effect of Obamacare on the job market. The new, larger estimate of the law’s negative impact on the labor force derives from three factors: (1) Obamacare’semployer mandate, which will discourage hiring and reduce wages offered by employers; (2) Obamacare’s $1 trillion in tax increases, which will discourage work and depress economic growth; and (3) the law’s $2 trillion in subsidies for low-income individuals, which will discourage many from remaining in the labor force.

Let’s focus on that last point, because it’s the one that has been the least-discussed in the media. In the past twelve months, a spate of research from academic economists has concluded that the health law, by offering economic benefits to low-income individuals, will disincentivize some of these individuals from continuing to work. Casey Mulligan of the University of Chicago has been particularly persuasive on this front, publishing two papers with the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Several economists, like Harvard’s Kate Baicker, MIT’s Amy Finkelstein, Texas A&M’s Laura Dague, and Northwestern’s Craig Garthwaite have found that rising unemployment is associated with an expansion of Medicaid. “Taking that research into account, CBO estimates that expanded Medicaid eligibility under the ACA will, on balance, reduce incentives to work.”

More significantly, as Casey Mulligan has warned, the new subsidized insurance exchanges will allow low-income workers to work less while maintaining the same effective income: what economists call theincome effect. In addition, because the subsidies decline on a sliding scale as you make more money, that sliding scale means that as workers work more, they make less per hour worked: what economists call the substitution effect.

CBO labor participation

When Mitt Romney signed his health-reform legislation in Massachusetts in 2006, economists didn’t discern a substantial impact on the labor market. That led many Obamacare cheerleaders to dismiss concerns that the law would depress the workforce. But Mulligan observes that the Massachusetts law did not have a meaningful impact on income tax rates, unlike Obamacare. The ACA “increases national rates about 12 times as much as the Massachusetts law increased rates,” notes Mulligan; “among other things, [Massachusetts’] employer penalty is an order of magnitude less.”

CBO staff, to its credit, read the sheaf of new research on this topic, and revised its estimates accordingly. Hence all the hubbub about the new report. But wait—there’s more!

Carney: Americans should stop working ‘to pursue their dreams’

After the CBO review came out, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney published a statement in which he declared, remarkably, that it’s a good thing that millions of Americans may drop out of the work force:

Over the longer run, CBO finds that because of this law, individuals will be empowered to make choices about their own lives and livelihoods, like retiring on time rather than working into their elderly years or choosing to spend more time with their families. At the beginning of this year, we noted that as part of this new day in health care, Americans would no longer be trapped in a job just to provide coverage for their families, and would have the opportunity to pursue their dreams.

Bored with your job? No worries—now you can quit, thanks to the generosity of other taxpayers. Want to retire early? No worries—now you can, thanks to the generosity of other taxpayers, and also thanks to the higher premiums that young people will be forced to pay on your behalf. The White House’s apparently sincere belief—echoed by progressive pundits at MSNBCThe New Republic, and the L.A. Times—is that it’s a good thing for fewer Americans to be economically self-sufficient.

If you’re one of the chumps out there who still toils away at a challenging job, and still pays taxes so that others can “pursue their dreams,” you have a right to resent the White House’s argument. And the “dream-pursuers” themselves should become aware of all the research suggesting that earned success, through hard work, is the most reliable path to true happiness.

Participation in the labor force was already declining, thanks to the poor economy and the retirement of the Baby Boomers. Obamacare, it appears, will accelerate that process, forcing fewer and fewer taxpayers to support a greater number of government beneficiaries.

No universal-coverage plan is immune from this problem

I should issue two caveats before I go on: any health-reform plan that seeks to offer coverage to the uninsured will have this type of effect on the labor market. As Josh Barro notes, the new Republican plan to replace Obamacare offered by Senators Tom Coburn (Okla.), Richard Burr (N.C.), and Orrin Hatch (Utah) also has a means-tested subsidy to help the poor buy health insurance.

In addition, it is genuinely a good thing for us to move to a system where people control their own health dollars and their own health coverage, and aren’t stuck at a job because they’re afraid of losing the coverage they have. But giving people the opportunity to switch jobs is quite a different goal from encouraging them to drop out of the work force altogether.

The negative effect of Obamacare on the labor market is far worse than any Republican alternative would be, because the ACA dramatically expands Medicaid, and because the law heavily subsidizes health insurance for those nearing retirement. In addition, Obamacare depresses economic growth through a $1 trillion tax increase, and increases the cost of hiring new workers, because of its employer mandate requiring most businesses to offer health coverage to every worker.

The CBO report harbors more bad news

The new CBO report contained a lot of other interesting information. CBO projects that economic growth will be more sluggish than they had previously projected.  From 2018 to 2023, nominal GDP growth will average 4.2 percent, compared to the CBO’s previous estimate of 4.4 percent. Over the same period, unemployment will average 5.6 percent, higher than the previous estimate of 5.4 percent.

Because of this slower economic growth, CBO projects that from 2014 to 2023, the federal government will receive $1.4 trillion less in tax revenue than it had projected last year. As a result, “CBO now estimates that the cumulative deficit for the 2014-2023 period…would be about $1.0 trillion greater than it projected in May [2013].”


Think about that for a second. Obamacare increased taxes by $1 trillion over ten years. Democrats have passed several other tax hikes under President Obama. And yet all of that planned new tax revenue has been offset by the poor economic growth that the President’s tax hikes, in part, have engendered.

Some on the right complain that Obamacare is a scheme for wealth redistribution. In truth, Obamacare is a scheme for wealth destruction.

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AVIK’S NEW BOOKHow Medicaid Fails the Poor, is now available inpaperbackKindle, and iBooks versions. Follow @Avik on Twitter, Google+, and YouTube, and The Apothecary on Facebook. Or, sign up to receive aweekly e-mail digest of articles from The Apothecary.

INVESTORS’ NOTE: The biggest publicly-traded players in Obamacare’s subsidized health insurance exchanges are Aetna (NYSE:AET), Humana (NYSE:HUM), Cigna (NYSE:CI), Molina (NYSE:MOH), WellPoint (NYSE:WLP), and Centene (NYSE:CNC), in order of the number of uninsured exchange-eligible Americans for whom their plans are available.


8 thoughts on “White House: It’s A Good Thing That Obamacare Will Drive 2.5 Million Americans Out Of The Workforce

  1. “That title belongs to the Obama White House, where Press Secretary Jay Carney claimed that 2.5 million Americans leaving the workforce was a good thing, because they would no longer be “trapped in a job.””

    Yes, Carney and I’m betting that when the next set of 2.5 million Americans leaving the workforce comes, you will say it’s a good thing because they would no longer have to “get a parking permit to park in their company’s parking lot”.



  2. Sometimes I wonder if will even want to live on this planet by 2024..In fact, by 2016 I think I will go hide out in the woods 🙂
    I wonder if the planet will even be here by 2024

  3. Are these a’holes celebrating the fact that people are being dropped from the workforce, and making it out to be a good thing? CNN was pushing this propaganda, and now this? 👿

    “Gee sorry Mr. and Mrs. America, you’re out of work, but Obammy care will save you. And don’t forget the food stamps, just rely on the government, after all, we’re here to help. *Big grin* Oh hey, look, here comes the post man, he’s here to deliver you something special”. Big gooberment

    Oh crap, I forgot to edit this to say, I’m being a bad commie.


  4. “Press Secretary Jay Carney claimed that 2.5 million Americans leaving the workforce was a good thing, because they would no longer be “trapped in a job.”

    Probably thinking of how much more free time they’ll have for more ‘programming’ from the idiot box.

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