Rob Schwarzwalder is Senior Vice President at Family Research Council. This article appeared in Religion Today on February 11, 2014.
A new study by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says that the Affordable Care Act, often called "Obamacare," "will lead to about two million fewer full-time workers by 2017 - rising to 2.5 million by 2024 - nearly all from employees voluntarily forgoing work because of the availability of government-sponsored health insurance exchanges."
Realizing the political injury this report would evoke, the White House was quick to respond. According to spokesman Jay Carney, "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."
The liberal Economic Policy Institute put a similar rosy filter over the CBO report. The Institute's director of health policy research, Elise Gould, gushed, "Working-age adults can now choose, without regard to their need to secure health insurance, whether they wish to supply labor and how much labor they wish to supply to the labor market. This is unabashedly a good thing for them."
"Trapped in a job?" "Pursue their dreams?" "Wish to supply labor?" These are remarkable choices of phrase. Now we work only if we want to, as employment is optional? In economic terms, America has been built on two things, labor and capital. The CBO now says that the former will contract from building the latter, and the White House claims this is a good thing.
The CBO makes clear that the loss of jobs has to do with such things as early retirement or part-time work. "The estimated reduction stems almost entirely from a net decline in the amount of labor that workers choose to supply, rather than from a net drop in businesses' demand for labor, so it will appear almost entirely as a reduction in labor force participation and in hours worked relative to what would have occurred otherwise rather than as an increase in unemployment (that is, more workers seeking but not finding jobs) or underemployment (such as part-time workers who would prefer to work more hours per week)."
That's a wordy way of saying (1) that since federally-subsidized health insurance will be available regardless of employment status, a lot of people who want to retire or go part-time will do so and (2) as a result, there will be about two million fewer workers in the labor pool. Sounds great for economic growth, right?
It should be axiomatic that rewarding people for not working creates an incentive not to work, and that less employment at a time of high unemployment might not be a good thing. Evidently this kind of geometry was untaught in the schools attended by current Executive Branch health care planners.
No one should begrudge an aging employee a decent retirement, but nor should the government claim that diminishing the number of available workers or the hours they are willing to put-in is wise. Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, notes that unemployment remains an endemic problem: "Today, a lower percentage of Americans are in the workforce - 63 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics - than at any time since the infamous days of Jimmy Carter. This has the effect of reducing the official unemployment rate, which led Binyamin Appelbaum of the New York Times to quip: 'We are basically "recovering from the recession" by reducing the share of Americans who participate in the labor force. Hurrah!'"
The Bible has a lot to say about work. Work in Scripture is characterized as necessary (II Thessalonians 3:10) and productive (Genesis1:28). It is also imitative of our Creator, Who, Genesis tells us, created the world in six days and "rested" on the seventh. As theologian John Mackay has put it, "Not only is it true that God works, but He has made mankind in his image and in his likeness, and so work realizes an inherent aspect of the potential implanted in the human constitution."
Our society cannot sustain itself in an environment where work is seen as an optional activity. Or where we simply don't have enough people. As my colleagues Drs. Pat Fagan and Henry Potrykus have written, "Slowdown in economic growth coupled with the increased numbers of dependent citizens makes closing the deficit impossible for President Obama or anyone else who uses the present welfare state as the economic model to be sustained ... We have proportionately fewer children (and) up to 20 percent of these children are unequipped to compete in the modern economy because of a lack of essential skills formed within the intact married family."
Our forebears understood, without being taught, that work is a noble thing, and put their backs and minds into creating an Americawhere prosperity and opportunity have long been the norm.
Are we now to mourn labor and celebrate lower GDP? My immigrant grandfathers were not educated, but never questioned that work was as necessary as breathing. They would look at this entire scenario with wonder. So should we all.