Wonks have highlighted the problem of “job lock” for years, and it’s a pretty straightforward problem, unique to the United States among the global economic powers. In a nutshell, Americans often feel “locked” to a job they don’t want in order to maintain health care coverage for themselves and their families.
You’re an entrepreneur with an idea for a new venture? Too bad. You’re ready for retirement but aren’t yet eligible for Medicare? Tough.
Concern about “job lock” used to be bipartisan, though the landscape quickly changed when the Congressional Budget Office noted that the Affordable Care Act would free more than 2 million Americans from “job lock” in the coming years, at which time conservatives decided the problem isn’t so bad after all.
Consider what happened late last week in Florida’s congressional special election, where former state CFO Alex Sink (D) has a narrow lead, and where she’s touting ACA benefits.
“Over the years, particularly the past five, six years when we’ve been in this horrible economic environment, I’ve had so many people express to me, ‘Boy Alex, I’d love to start a business or I’d love to change jobs, but I can’t because I’ve got good health insurance at my workplace now. I’m stuck in a dead-end job and I’m not very happy in it but I have to stay here.’“That’s what the [CBO] report referenced more: people having the ability to have more freedom and more choice in their life. Even maybe some people who would rather work maybe part time and not be a full time worker so they can do other things with their life. So actually, it’s kind of an exciting prospect.”
Over the weekend, at least one Florida news outlet referred to this as a “gaffe.” It’s important to understand why.
Almost immediately after Sink touted “people having the ability to have more freedom and more choice in their life,” Republicans, eager to win this special election, pounced. The National Republican Congressional Committee said Sink “just admitted she thinks Americans working fewer hours is an ‘exciting prospect.’” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus asked, “With so many people sitting out of the job market, how is working less an ‘exciting prospect?’”
To be sure, we’re watching a policy debate predicated entirely on willful ignorance. Sink’s comments are largely indistinguishable from what Republicans were saying up until quite recently – it makes sense to create an environment that encourages entrepreneurs and makes it easier for people to leave jobs they don’t want.
But because to say this is to suggest “Obamacare” is doing some good, a variety of Republican officials now have to pretend they actually support “job lock.”
Greg Sargent added the other day, “Well, this should get interesting. Republicans are now attacking a Dem House candidate for saying it’s a good thing that Obamacare will give people more control over their employment choices.”
I’m genuinely curious: how many Americans would read/hear the Sink quote referenced above and disagree with it?