The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated that President Obama’s signature healthcare law, the Affordable Care Act, will significantly reduce the total number of hours Americans work. This projected decline in hours is equivalent to the loss of 2.3 million full-time jobs over the next decade, according to the CBO.
Why will the Affordable Care Act lead to fewer hours worked?
By offering income-based federal subsidies for health insurance, ObamaCare forces some individuals to make a choice between healthcare and work. For instance, individuals may opt to work fewer hours in order to qualify for federal subsidies for health insurance. Similarly, some people may opt out of work entirely in order to maintain eligibility for Medicaid, the government insurance program for U.S. citizens who earn an income up to 133 percent of the poverty line.
The Affordable Care Act not only incentivizes people not to work, but it also incentivizes small businesses not to hire. Under ObamaCare, small businesses are presented with a dilemma: Either they hire 50 people and provide expensive health insurance for each employee or they maintain a workforce below 50 and avoid a steep price tag. Chances are that businesses with fewer than 50 employees (which employ 31 million people combined) simply will not provide medical coverage if they are not required to. Because the Obama administration has recognized the detrimental impact the healthcare law will have on the economy, it has postponed the employer mandate, so that only medium-size firms (with 100 or more employees) will have to purchase health insurance.
Furthermore, anecdotal evidence indicates that some businesses are cutting employee hours, thereby reducing the number of full-time workers for whom they would have to provide insurance. At a time in which the economy is experiencing painfully slow growth and Americans are having difficulty finding jobs, this potential decline in future labor participation — spurred by ObamaCare — is a dreadful specter.
Long-term unemployment is causing poverty and discontentment
In both December and January, the economy added fewer jobs than expected. Although the unemployment rate is currently at 6.6 percent, significantly below its mid-recession peak (10 percent) in October 2009, the labor force participation rate is 63 percent, a 35-year low. It seems as if the unemployment rate has fallen not because people have re-entered the workforce, but because people are no longer actively seeking employment. The long-term unemployed aren’t even looking for work anymore.
When individuals do not have jobs, they are no longer exercising their creative capacities in a truly rewarding and fulfilling manner. They are no longer able to provide financially for their families. They are no longer able to practice the skills and the virtues essential for success in the workplace and in life. Unemployed Americans in their prime working years are particularly disadvantaged by a sputtering economy. And their community suffers as well, since able-bodied Americans sitting on the sidelines are not given an opportunity to contribute their respective skills to the production of goods and services.
Since Congress has failed to extend jobless benefits to the 1.7 million Americans who have been unemployed for longer than 26 weeks, an increasing number of families will face tremendous financial difficulties. Slow economic growth, fewer job openings, and the perverse incentives instituted by ObamaCare are preventing people from having productive and fruitful lives.
ObamaCare is freeing people to do what?
Proponents of the lengthy, burdensome, and expensive Affordable Care Act are claiming that the law will free people to quit their jobs. On Meet the Press, New York Senator Chuck Schumer said, “What [the] CBO said is that many American workers would have freedom. Now that’s a good word. Freedom to do things that they couldn’t do.” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi defended ObamaCare on the ground that it “will enable more than 2 million workers to escape ‘job-lock’ — the situation where workers remain tied to employers for access to health insurance benefits.”
Schumer and Pelosi are taking an awkward stance, especially when considering the crisis in employment our country is currently facing. Indeed, it would be beneficial for someone to have the freedom to leave a bad job and get a good job without worrying about health coverage. But ObamaCare is not encouraging labor force participation at all. It is not freeing people to locate and pursue better jobs. It is freeing people to obtain health insurance more easily without a job than with a job.
Freedom from work, which is what the Affordable Care Act incentivizes, is not true freedom, but enslavement to the taxpayers and government programs that provide health insurance. It is enslavement to limited means, low productivity, and lack of accomplishment.
Human Nature, Work, and Dignity
When Adam was created, he was told to fill the earth, to subdue it, and to have dominion over it. Adam, created in God’s image, was given creative capabilities that enabled him to cultivate the land, to take raw materials and make them useful for communal use. We, sons and daughters of Adam, are creative beings who author books, paint portraits, produce, sell, and trade goods. By working, we fulfill our natural, latent, creative abilities. Maximizing our talents in such a way (Matt. 25:14-30), we glorify God and we serve our neighbors, thereby fulfilling the two greatest commandments (Matt. 22:36-40).
Work — skillful performance — is a basic human good that should be incentivized by our churches, our communities, and our government. Any policy or law that encourages people to work less and take more (from taxpayers and the government) should be changed in order to reflect the dignity and the necessity of work, which is a key aspect of human flourishing and happiness.
Human beings are not designed to be idle, but to work and make a living (2 Thess. 3:7-12).
In 2 Thessalonians, Paul writes, “For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.”
Anyone who declines work in order to receive subsidies for health insurance is being forced by bad government policy to make a decision that should not have to be made. No one should have to choose between having a job and having health insurance. As a church, we ought to encourage work in every way possible. Locate the individuals in your congregation who may be considering leaving their jobs in order to provide health insurance for their families. Perhaps it is possible for the church to provide subsidies for health insurance, so that people can be free to both work and have the money to purchase healthcare. Engage with employers in your church and connect them with able-bodied parishioners who are seeking work. It may be possible to allow unemployed individuals in your church to work part-time on a building project, a service project, or a community event. It is far better for family life — and community life — when people are not dependent on others for their sustenance. Such a state prevents us from experiencing genuine human freedom.
Paul implores us to stay away from idleness and pointless, frivolous activities. What should Christians pursue, then? What kind of work is glorifying to God? What kind of work should be promoted by the church, by our culture, and by our government? What is the proper attitude toward work? Ultimately, working with a sincere heart that is intent on serving God and neighbor is one of humanity’s highest callings. We must promote good work habits and good attitudes in our churches.