No, Obamacare Isn’t Forcing People to Work Less

Here is Sarah Ferris writing in The Hill today:

ObamaCare will force a reduction in American work hours — the equivalent of 2 million jobs over the next decade, Congress’s nonpartisan scorekeeper said Monday.

That’s an unfortunate choice of words, especially since three paragraphs later Ferris herself says it’s not true: “The CBO is not predicting that employers will fire millions of workers or reduce hours because of the law, but that the law changes incentives over the years for the workers themselves both in part-time and full-time positions.”

Obamacare isn’t forcing anyone to do anything. According to the CBO it has three general effects:

  • It includes some tax increases, which modestly reduce incentives to earn more income.
  • It allows more people to buy health insurance even if they aren’t employed, which modestly reduces incentives to work.
  • Its benefits decline as income goes up, which reduces incentives to work (in some cases) or to work more (in other cases).

CBO’s specific estimates of reduced work incentives may be wrong—they strike me as a bit high— but their general conclusion is both correct and well-known. Tax increases do reduce incentives to work. Decoupling insurance from employment does reduce the number of people who work solely because they need the insurance. And means-tested benefits do create the equivalent of high marginal tax rates as income increases, which reduces the incentive to work more.

There’s nothing new here. Obamacare does change work incentives in certain ways, though the effect is small: about 1-2 percent of the workforce by 2025. But it doesn’t force anything. There are no “broken promises” or “catastrophic failures” to rant about. Just some small marginal effects that shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s been paying attention.


The more we thought about how MoJo's journalism can have the most impact heading into the 2020 election, the more we realized that so many of today's stories come down to corruption: democracy and the rule of law being undermined by the wealthy and powerful for their own gain.

So we're launching a new Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption. We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We'll publish what we find as a major series in the summer of 2020, including a special issue of our magazine, a dedicated online portal, and video and podcast series so it doesn't get lost in the daily deluge of breaking news.

It's unlike anything we've done before and we've got seed funding to get started, but we're asking readers to help crowdfund this new beat with an additional $500,000 so we can go even bigger. You can read why we're taking this approach and what we want to accomplish in "Corruption Isn't Just Another Scandal. It's the Rot Beneath All of Them," and if you like how it sounds, please help fund it with a tax-deductible donation today.

We Recommend


Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.