Q: Will 2.5 Million People Lose Their Jobs in 2024 Because of the ACA?
A: No, we would not describe our estimates in that way.
We wrote in the report: “CBO estimates that the ACA will reduce the total number of hours worked, on net, by about 1.5 percent to 2.0 percent during the period from 2017 to 2024, almost entirely because workers will choose to supply less labor.” The reason for the reduction in the supply of labor is that the provisions of the ACA reduce the incentive to work for certain subsets of the population.
For example, under the ACA, health insurance subsidies are provided to some people with low income and are phased out as their income rises; as a result, a portion of the added income from working more would be offset by a loss of some or all of the subsidies, which represents an implicit tax on earnings. Also, the ACA’s subsidies effectively boost the income of recipients, which will lead some of them to decide they can work less and still maintain or improve their standard of living. Therefore, some people will decide not to work or to work fewer hours than would otherwise be the case—including some people who will choose to retire earlier than they would have otherwise, and some people who will work less themselves and rely more on a spouse’s earnings. (Many other factors influence decisions about working, including, for example, income and payroll taxes and the cost of commuting and child care. Moreover, under current economic conditions, a substantial number of people who would like to work cannot find a job.)
Because the longer-term reduction in work is expected to come almost entirely from a decline in the amount of labor that workers choose to supply in response to the changes in their incentives, we do not think it is accurate to say that the reduction stems from people “losing” their jobs.
Here’s a useful way to think about the choice of wording: When firms do not have enough business and decide to lay people off, the people who are laid off are generally worse off and are therefore unhappy about what is happening. As a result, other people express their sympathy to those people for having “lost their jobs” due to forces beyond their control. In contrast, when the labor market is strong and people decide on their own to retire, to leave work to take care of their families, or to cut back on their hours to pursue other interests, those people presumably think they are better off (or they would not be making the voluntary choices they are making). As a result, other people are generally happy for them and do not describe them as having “lost their jobs.”
Thus, there is a critical difference between, on the one hand, people who leave a job for reasons beyond their control and, on the other hand, people who choose not to work or to work less. The wording that people use to describe those differing circumstances reflects the different reactions of the people involved. In our report, we indicated that “the estimated reduction [in employment] stems almost entirely from a net decline in the amount of labor that workers choose to supply,” so we think the language of “losing a job” does not fit.