Lately I've been taking in more liberal media and 'mainstream' media than I'd normally. I feel like much of the media I'd been consuming had become nothing but an echo chamber, and frankly you can't really refine or develop an effective argument if its weak points are never challenged.
This morning, I was listening to NPR's coverage of the Republican proposal to amend the ACA to define "full-time' employment to 40 hours a week or more rather than the present definition of 30 hours per week or more. The Republicans are arguing that the ACA definition of 30 hours creates an incentive for employers to limit weekly hours for workers, thereby reducing the number of people they must offer health insurance to (under penalty of law). NPR interviews someone from the American Enterprise institute to represent this argument.
On the other side of the argument, NPR gives us a Dean of the School of Public Policy at NYU. They say she argues that the 30 hours definition is a good idea based on a couple points:
- Very few people work about 30 hours. Only ~2.5% of all workers have schedules that are between 30 and 34 hours.
- Vast majority of people are working about a 40-hour week, so by only reducing hours to 39, employers can move people below the threshold.
- The is an argument that most 40-hour workers already have coverage, so they aren't affected by the change, but the 'research' iundicates that even if you count only those who have no coverage, there is "twice as many people at risk of losing hours" if you raise the full time definition to 40 hours from 30, and "the facts suggest that describing this legislation as an effort to protect workers is a smokescreen."
So which is the better argument? That depends on the answers to some other questions. What is the best measure of the impact? The total number of people affected? The total number of hours lost? This is why the Dean of the School of Public policy (like many academics) gets it wrong: she asks the wrong question.
The Dean argues that there are 'twice as many people at risk of losing hours' under the 40 hour definition, even after you exclude those who already have insurance and aren't an additional burden on the employer by working 'full time' hours. But the Dean is basically arguing that it's worse for a huge number of people to be taken down to 39 hours than it is for a smaller number of people to lose hours-- though they admittedly lose more hours (per person).
The Dean is arguing that more people losing a single hour per week that represents 2.5% of their total hours (from 40 to 39) is worse than a smaller number of people losing more than 25% of their weekly hours (from 40 down to 29). This is bad thinking. Moreover, the Dean is making the classic mistake of looking at how things are now in a static snapshot. "Hardly anybody works 30-34 hours per week." she says. Not only is this NOT an argument for the 30hour definition, it also ignores the probability that this number of people working 30-34 hours is likely to be impacted by this legislation. Indeed, the *facts* indicate that this is occurring and is precisely the motivation for re-defining the ACA limit.