ACA Impact on Hours Worked: Employment Data: Household Surveys

VII. Key Issues: Regulation & Reform >> C. Health Reform >> Affordable Care Act (ACA) >> ACA Impact on Employment/Economy >> ACA Impact on Hours Worked: Employment Data: Household Surveys (last updated 2.14.16)

Current Population Survey

The Bureau of Labor Statistics monthly Household Survey Data (i.e., the Current Population Survey, or CPS) provides information on the number of workers who are employed and usually work part-time (BLS defines part-time work as under 35 hours a week whereas ACA uses under 30) as well as those reportedly working full time.

Part-time and Temporary Workers 

Part-Time Workers

  • 2014. According to Urban Institute, “we find a small increase in part-time work in 2014 beyond what would be expected at this point in the economic recovery, attributable to an increase in involuntary part-time work. The increase is not specific to part-time work as defined by the ACA (less than 30 hours per week). Moreover, job transition patterns suggest that the increase in part-time work in 2014 is more likely due to a slow recovery of full-time jobs following the Great Recession than the ACA.
  • 2013. CPS figures show the seasonally adjusted number of part-time workers reached an all-time high in June 2013 (28.059M.). However, this number has grown rather steadily since 1965. There has not been an obvious upward spike in this number since 2013 began: indeed the monthly average for 2013 to date (27.631M) is slightly lower than the monthly average for 2012 (27.659M).

Temporary Workers


Part-time Workers per 100 Full-time Workers 

2013. The CPS data can be used to estimate the overall ratio of PT workers to FT workers, expressed below as PT workers per 100 FT workers.

  • June 2013. During the month of June, 2013, there were 24.2 PT workers per 100 FT workers.
  • Short Term Trends. The ratio of PT to FT workers in June 2013 is the highest level so far in 2013, yet still slightly below the figure for June 2012 (24.3).
  • Long Term Trends. Using annual averages from the BLS monthly data, the the ratio of PT to FT workers peaked in 2010 (24.5) and has declined slightly but steadily ever since; this includes the 2013 YTD average (23.8), which is lower than the average for CY 2012 (24.1).

The relative stability in the ratio of PT to FT workers over years suggests that there’s probably not a large number of FT employees as BLS defines them (35 hour and above) being forced into PT employee status as the ACA defines them (below 30 hours). Given the relative numbers, had 1,000,000 FT workers been converted to PT status, the PT to FT ratio would have increased by 0.9. The ratio did grow by 0.4 between January 2013 and June 2013, but it grew by the identical amount in 2008 between those same months and grew by an even larger amount during that period in 2011. Thus, it is difficult to attribute the most recent increase to Obamacare, as opposed to typical fluctuations in this ratio.

Growth in Part-time vs. Full-time Workers 

2013. Keeping in mind that the numbers from the household survey (CPS) are volatile, they are nevertheless used to examine changes in the number of PT and FT workers.

  • June 2013. During the month of June, 2013, the economy lost 240,000 full-time workers as it gained 360,000 part-time workers.
  • Short Term TrendsBoth the gain in PT jobs and loss of FT jobs were larger than in any other month over the past year.
  • Long Term Trends. Since 2003, there have been 4 months in which PT workers grew by more than 600,000–i.e., well above the figure for June 2013. Similarly, there have been at least 5 non-recession months in which the number of FT jobs declined by more than 500,000. Thus, the June figures are unusual, but hardly unique.

The June 2013 figures led economists at First Trust to conclude: “Given the volatility in these data series, we would not put too much emphasis on one month’s worth of data. However, it’s consistent with the large payroll gains for retail as well as restaurants & bars and probably shows some firms who would be hiring full-timers are hiring part-timers to avoid Obamacare.

Ratio of New Part-time to New Full-time Workers 

2013. This conclusion is reinforced when comparing the ratio of new PT employees to new FT employees using average monthly data for each year from the CPS (calculations by author using BLS data).

  • 2013. For the first six months of 2013, an average of 93,000 new PT jobs and 21,000 new FT jobs were added, resulting in a ratio of 4.28.
  • Short Term Trends. In contrast, in 2012, an average of 31,000 new PT jobs and 171,000 new FT jobs were added, resulting in a ratio of 0.18.
  • Long Term Trends. The experience in 2013 was a dramatic reversal from the pattern over the last 10 years. Since 2003, there has not been a single year (except 2013) in which the ratio of new PT to new FT workers exceeded 1. Historically, the next-largest ratio during that decade (leaving aside years in which the ratio was negative due to average monthly job losses) was 0.53 (2004).

Unlike the other trends, which generally follow historic patterns, the 2013 year-to-date experience is strikingly anomalous in comparison to the preceding decade. Even if growth in PT vs. FT workers reverted to its historic pattern for the balance of 2013, the annual average ratio still would be four times as large as the 2nd highest ratio from 2004. U.S. News and Report’s editor in chief Mort Zuckerman argues “At this stage of an expansion you would expect the number of part-time jobs to be declining, as companies would be doing more full-time hiring.”

However, reportedly, “Nearly one-third of the sharp rise in part-time workers seen in employment numbers for June was due to federal employee furloughs caused by automated spending cuts, rather than employers shifting to part-time workers due to concern about President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law, a senior administration official said.

The official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, also predicted that July job numbers due on Friday would show a similar increase in part-time workers due largely to the furlough of 650,000 Defense Department employees.”

Involuntary Part-time Workers

2013. A separate tabulation from the CPS household survey shows the number of persons employed part time for economic reasons (sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers).

  • June 2013. During the month of June, 2013, the number of involuntary PT workers increased by 322,000. There was a 160,000 net increase in employment according to the household survey. This implies that the entire increase in the household measure of employment in June was accounted for by persons working part-time for economic reasons.
  • Short Term Trends. Involuntary PT employment (seasonally adjusted) was 8,226,000 in June 2013, but this was only 16,000 higher than one year earlier. The June figure is the highest so far in CY2013; however, in the preceding year, the monthly figure declined from the previous month’s level on four different occasions, meaning the increase has not been steady.
  • Long Term Trends.
    • The June 2013 figure was considerably lower than 9,051,000 in June 2009, yet substantially higher than the figure of 5,540,000 in June 2008.  However, the huge run-up in this number occurred during the recession (which ended in 2009), i.e., before ACA was enacted in March 2010.  Since the recession ended, this metric has generally trended downward.
    • Newsweek’s Robert Samuelson points out that “This recovery, compared to its post-World War II predecessors, has been exceptionally weak. The number of part-time workers who would like full-time jobs (defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as 35 hours a week or more) has dropped very slowly. In May 2009, it peaked at 9.1 million; as of last month, it was 8.2 million. Moreover, the level was almost twice as high as before the recession– 4.2 million in December 2006.”
    • CBO (November 2015). CBO’s Assessment of the Economic Outlook Over the Next Decade (11.19.15). A chart on Underuse of Labor (p. 10) shows that U6, which includes unemployment, working part-time for economic reasons and marginally attached workers, is still higher now than at any other time between 1994 and the start of the 2007-2009 recession. This metric peaked just after the recession ended, but its decline has been very slow.

As of July 2013, average gross domestic product growth rate annualized over the past 15 quarters (2%) was the weakest GDP growth since World War II. Similarly, the civilian workforce-participation rate has dropped by 2.2 percentage points since the recession ended. “Such a decline amid a supposedly expanding economy has never happened after previous recessions.” Consequently, it is difficult to disentangle how much of this involuntary unemployment among PT workers can be attributed to the ACA specifically rather than the anemic recovery generally.

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