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Smart Bombs: Jobs malady predates health care reform

Mortimer Zuckerman is the latest pundit to blame health care reform for this country’s large part-time workforce. Writing for the Wall Street Journal, he states: “… There is one clear political contribution to the dismal jobs trend. Many employers cut workers’ hours to avoid the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to provide health insurance to anyone working 30 hours a week or more.”

Zuckerman’s “proof” is this: “Last month involuntary part-timers swelled to 7.5 million, compared with 4.4 million in 2007.”

Sure, 7.5 million is high, but it was about 9 million at the end of 2008, when the trend reached its apex. Now, what happened in 2008 that might’ve caused that dramatic increase? If Zuckerman, editor in chief of U.S. World & News Report, read his own publication, he could’ve fingered the real culprit: the greatest economic contraction since The Great Depression.

On Dec. 18, 2008, U.S. News asked economist Nouriel Roubini about the near future. His predictions were prescient:

“My view is that that recession is going to continue at least through the end of 2009. It started in December 2007, so it’s going to be 24 months long. It’s going to be the longest we’ve had in the last 60 years … Just to give you a sense, in the last recession, the cumulative fall in output was only 0.4 percent – this one is 10 times deeper. The unemployment rate will peak at above 9 percent sometime in 2010. And we’re facing not just a U.S. recession but a global recession.”

Translation: The economy was going to become a global Dumpster fire that would be difficult to extinguish, and the blaze was set long before Obama took office.

A rising share of part-time jobs typically follows economic downturns, but just to make sure, Derek Thompson of The Atlantic checked. Sure enough, the number of involuntary part-time jobs doubled throughout 2008. (“Involuntary” means people work part time but want to work full time.) This trend leveled off until March 2010 – the same month President Obama signed the ACA – when the share of part-time jobs began to fall.

Thompson notes that throughout 2013, “For every new part-time job, we’re creating 225 full-time positions.”

This by no means suggests the employment picture is healthy, but it does show that it’s premature to pin any trend on health care reform. On the other hand, creative critics could just change the complaint:

“Obamacare is killing part-time jobs!”

Brash Talking. Because each lawmaker is part of a large legislative body, they generally campaign on phrases like “led the charge to” or “helped pass” whatever it is they’re advertising. But not Sen. Michael Baumgartner, whose TV ad on education dismisses any notion of teamwork.

He matter-of-factly states he brought all-day kindergarten and a medical school to Spokane. Plus, he froze college tuition for two years. Maybe he also leaped the Capitol in a single bound.

It’s fine for Baumgartner to tout kindergarten and tuition freezes, but many others worked on those issues. Success has many fathers, but in these ads there’s one big daddy. Put another way, when tuition goes up again, will that be his fault? My guess is he’ll haul out the team photo.

The medical school claim is just odd, because Spokane doesn’t have one. As he knows, the University of Washington and Washington State University are engaged in a tussle over establishing a new one. Yes, there are more medical students in Spokane, but they’re under the five-state partnership run by the Big Dawgs in Seattle. And, yes, there is a new health sciences building on the Riverpoint campus. But it was the current chancellor, former Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, who led that charge.

Associate Editor Gary Crooks can be reached at or (509) 459-5026. Follow him on Twitter @GaryCrooks.