The Silence is Deafening

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Issue #10233 - December 2018 | Page #66
By Thomas McAnally

If you are a Boomer, Next Gen, Gen Z, Millennial, or Green Martian, you have been effected by the Affordable Care Act, AKA Obamacare.

The Affordable Care Act added the employer shared responsibility provisions under section 4980H of the Internal Revenue Code. (IRS)

When the affordable Care Act, AKA Obama Care, took effect, certain employers who hired employees for 30 hours or more were responsible for providing healthcare benefits to employees and their families. That sounded great on the surface, but it also meant that what constitutes a full time employee went from 40 to 30 hours a week. What is never talked about is how the lowering of a full work week from 40 hours to 30 hours has devastated younger Americans. 

Consider that most young people entering the workforce start with entry level jobs and many of those jobs are with companies that fall under the ACA requirements to provide healthcare options. Until the ACA went into effect, these employees could work 40 hours before getting overtime, and some even got a few hours of overtime at 1-1/2 times their hourly rate. Benefits were usually offered by better companies who cared about their people.

Before ACA, people could work 40 hours, usually 5 days a week, and have two days off to “have a life.” It may not always be a Saturday or Sunday, as entry level jobs go it could be a Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, or any combination of days or hours. People learned to live on what they made in these 40+ hours, and worked their way up the ladder to more responsibility and higher paying jobs. 

Back in the day, going from hourly to salary was considered the gold standard, and moving  to a real Salary job meant more benefits. Many companies offered some benefits to hourly employees too which, though different from benefits for salary employees, were still better than going out and paying for a personal policy, for example. The vast majority of smaller companies couldn’t compete with larger companies when it came to benefit packages, leading to another gold standard when you worked for a GE, Chevrolet, Bank of America, or other large company that had jobs with benefits you could retire from.

Because you could count on the hours required for your job, a “steady job” as we called it, you had time to improve your education, maybe get a Bachelors or Masters degree and become even more valuable. You could plan a vacation because the “steady job” also had paid vacation leave. In 20 or 30 years with the same big company, you could even retire because the company offered a retirement plan, not like today where they throw pennies into your 401k. You were living the dream, buying nicer homes, nicer cars, and feeling secure in your future because of a great “steady job.”

Enter the ACA. While it did bring health insurance benefits to many, it also redefined the number of hours required (30) as full time employment. No longer could you count on one job to pay the bills, you needed another part time or even full time 30-hour job to make ends meet. Large employers who fall into the ACA rules now limited your hours to 30, to avoid having to offer health care benefits. Once you have worked 30 hours, forget overtime. The ACA may have lowered hours required to be considered full time, but it left 40 hours as the benchmark for overtime. 

How small is a company who fits the ACA 30-hour rule? Is this only limited to companies like GE, Wells Fargo, McDonald’s, and other large employers? Not a chance! Companies who employ 50 full time employees fall under the ACA mandate. With only 50 full time employees as the standard, small to medium size companies are being affected too. The answer to not having to offer health care options is simple, in plain English in the ACA, limit your full time employees to 49 or less and don’t let them work 30 hours. 

If you only get 30 hours, no overtime, and still have the same rent, house payment, electric bill, car payment, insurance costs, groceries, etc., how do you keep your standard of living? Easy, get another job. But wait, your primary employer takes 30 hours and you need at least 10 more to make up for the loss caused by the ACA 30-hour standard. You quickly find that there are few if any 10-hour jobs in your area so the next option is 20–30 hours for your second employer. Those hours do not necessarily come when you want them, they can be evening, night, weekend, or a mixed bag of short and long hour days. If you are lucky to get a 20-hour job, you are now working 50 hours and guess what, no overtime! The ACA just handed the solution to paying overtime to employers in the form of ready and waiting employees who need a few extra hours to make ends meet. When you worked 40 hours, you seldom thought about working another 10–30 hours during your family time. Now, there is no “family time.” Mom and dad are both struggling to manage 3–4 jobs with conflicting schedules. They miss out on overtime, benefits, retirement, vacation, and advancement, because they are expendable part time workers. Part time back in the day and part time today mean the same thing. No commitment from the employer, no benefits, no family time, and no overtime, even working 50–60 hours a week. 

Some smaller companies offer 40 hours a week and have benefits, but most do not. They don’t need to offer health care when lower wage employees can get subsidies from the government. When they saw how they could get just as much work done without the cost of overtime, or benefits, they quickly adapted to a 30-hour week, more people, and the same hours. 

This has been a major issue for me and I can’t fathom the silence. Nothing from victim advocates, politicians, or even the attorneys who will sue anyone. Still, we belittle people for playing video games to escape the stress of working two jobs, or when they give up on advancement and change jobs for pennies, only to have hours cut like water from the tap. Buying a home, a new car, or taking a vacation are as foreign to them as lounging on the French Rivera is to us. The employer wins, the politicians don’t care, the people get screwed, and the silence is deafening.

You're reading an article from the December 2018 issue.

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