Private-sector job creation initially recovered from the recession at a normal rate, leading to predictions last year of a “Recovery Summer.” Since April 2010, however, net private-sector job creation has stalled. Within two months of the passage of Obamacare, the job market stopped improving. This suggests that businesses are not exaggerating when they tell pollsters that the new health care law is holding back hiring. The law significantly raises business costs and creates considerable uncertainty about the future. To encourage hiring, Congress should repeal Obamacare.
Initially Solid Job Growth
The economy is recovering at an unusually slow pace. Typically, employment grows strongly after a severe recession. In the year and a half following the last comparable recession (1981–1982), the unemployment rate fell by 3.3 percentage points.
Initially the economy appeared on track for a steady recovery. In August 2009, the White House projected the unemployment rate would fall to 8 percent by the end of 2011 and 7.5 percent by the end of 2012. This would represent a recovery roughly one-third slower than after the 1981–1982 recession.
Job creation data supported these forecasts. The economy went from losing 841,000 jobs in January 2009—the recession’s low point—to gaining 229,000 jobs in April 2010. By the spring of 2010, the Administration confidently predicted a “Recovery Summer.”
Obamacare Discourages Hiring
In March 2010, Congress passed President Obama’s health care reform legislation. The bill had appeared in serious jeopardy, and after the upset special election victory of Senator Scott Brown (R–MA), many analysts expected the bill to fail. Instead, it became law.
The law discourages employers from hiring in several ways:
- Businesses with fewer than 50 workers have a strong incentive to maintain this size, which allows them to avoid the mandate to provide government-approved health coverage or face a penalty;
- Businesses with more than 50 workers will see their costs for health coverage rise—they must purchase more expensive government-approved insurance or pay a penalty; and
- Employers face considerable uncertainty about what constitutes qualifying health coverage and what it will cost. They also do not know what the health care market or their health care costs will look like in four years. This makes planning for the future difficult.
Recovery Stalls Post–Obamacare
Within two months of Obamacare’s passing, the recovery stalled. Figure 1 shows net private-sector job creation from January 2009 onward. The red line shows the trend in job creation before and after April 2010. Private-sector job creation improved by an average of 67,600 jobs per month before April 2010. That month, private-sector employers added 229,000 net jobs.
In May 2010, the job situation stopped improving. Employers created just 48,000 net jobs, and the trend in job creation changed. Starting in that month, private-sector hiring took a new course, improving by only 6,500 jobs per month—less than one-tenth the previous rate.
This change in course is statistically measurable. Econometric testing shows that a structural break in job growth occurred between April and May 2010. The Heritage Foundation used the Bai–Perron breakpoint test to test for both the likelihood and location of a structural break in job growth.  That test showed that both the level of and the trend in job growth changed between April and May 2010.
The Obama Administration also altered its post–Obamacare economic estimates to forecast a significantly slower recovery. The Administration now projects unemployment of 9.1 percent at the end of 2011 and 8.2 percent by the end of 2012. The widely expected labor market recovery never happened.
Businesses Say Obamacare Is Holding Them Back
The fact that improvements in the job market ground to a halt after Congress passed Obamacare does not prove that the health care law caused it—correlation cannot prove causation. However, the fact does lend strong weight to the voices of businesses who say that the law is preventing hiring.
In a recent survey, 33 percent of business owners said the health care law was either their greatest or second-greatest obstacle to new hiring. Federal Reserve officials report similar concerns. Dennis Lockhart, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, reports that:
In addition to slow and uncertain revenue growth, contacts in this recovery are frequently citing a number of other factors that are impeding hiring. Prominent among these is the lack of clarity about the cost implications of the recent health care legislation. We’ve frequently heard strong comments to the effect of “my company won’t hire a single additional worker until we know what health insurance costs are going to be.”
Data Show Reason for Concern
The economy is experiencing an unusually slow recovery. While the labor market improved steadily from January 2009 to April 2010, it suddenly stalled in May. This coincided with the passage of President Obama’s health care overhaul, which significantly raised both the costs and uncertainty involved for businesses providing employer-sponsored health insurance. Many businesses report that this legislation is holding back hiring. The data suggest that these complaints are not idle.
James Sherk is Senior Policy Analyst in Labor Economics in the Center for Data Analysis at The Heritage Foundation.