Sharing the Job Pool in The New Economy

The Olympics are great but the political shows are my favored competition. Not that anyone medals, but it is fun to watch the level heads of a David Brooks, a Paul Krugman, or an Andrea Mitchell set the record straight when political hacks, partisan pundits, and think-tank ideologues "skew" the meaning of current facts.

The CBO report citing the impact of the Affordable Care Act on jobs is a case in point. It looked like a bonanza for opponents of ACA at first--the media made it appear so and health care/Obama opponents were on the offensive. Until cooler heads provided a truer picture of what had been inaccurately represented as Obamacare driving 2.5 million people out of the workforce. Turns out that

CBO speculates that some people who are working primarily to get health coverage but who really need or want to care for family members or start a business or go to school or some other worthy human endeavor might leave the workforce since ACA affords them other ways to get health coverage.

If the CBO projection is true or even close to what will happen, society might well be better served if a mom or dad or son or daughter stayed home to care for children or aging relatives, if an entrepreneur left full employment to start a new business, if an under-employed worker took time to earn a degree or certificate that would improve his or her employment prospects, if a person in their 50s or 60s retired or went to part-time employment before the age of Medicare eligibility.

All of these options have two things in common. One, they may be better for the individual or family, or, at least that is a chance and the choice the worker is willing to take. Two, they create new job opportunities for other American workers!

That's the part of the discussion I have heard or read very little about--the fact that people who leave the workforce, because the ACA provided them the opportunity to or for other voluntary reasons, create job openings for people who are unemployed or under-employed. The 2.5 million who might leave the workforce projected by CBO is a drop in the bucket, given the magnitude of the American workforce, but it is not a loss; it is an opportunity.

I'm not an economist or a labor expert. I'm in the field of human development, where employment and work are among the fundamentals. However, as a taxpayer, citizen and human service professional, it is clear to me that the economy has changed and is changing in fundamental ways. Despite the improved economy and reductions in unemployment in some areas, technology, the war on terrorism, the increasing concentration of wealth, and other factors are constricting workforce growth and this appears to be a sustained reality. Companies are making better profits but are not expanding as they did in the past and, as a result of that and cuts in government employment, unemployment, at rates all would rather not see, is probably here to stay, at least until the next major structural economic shift.

So let's put partisan misrepresentation aside. If the ACA "allows" people the option to leave the workforce to better care for their families or better themselves, perhaps in ways that saves society's costs or improves an individual's earning power in the long run, it is a good thing. Not to see this is the proverbial penny-wise-and-pound-foolish. And to overlook the fact that jobs left are jobs available is, to use another colloquialism, failing to see the forest for the trees.