Filed Under:Health Insurance, Individual Health

Disability Insurance Observer: True jobs

Opinion

The income umbrella (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
The income umbrella (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

A new (at least, newish) batch of employment figures hints at how the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) could make life harder for some people with disabilities.

The University of New Hampshire's Institute on Disability has included a table on the "full-time, year-round employment rate" among non-institutionalized civilians ages 16 to 64 in its latest Disability Statistics Compendium. 

Usually we hear about the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics unemployment and employment rate figures. When coming up with those figures, the statisticians count John Doe as being employed if he did any work at all for pay or profit during the survey week. That definition includes part-time and temporary work. 

In other words: The definition includes a lot of work that can't really pay a normal independent adult's bills.

Of course, some seasonal, temporary, intermittent and part-time workers make out like bandits when they're working and enjoy their time off. But, most don't. 

The Institute on Disability looked at some less-cited government figures, from the Current Population Survey, and found that the percentage of workers who face no physical limitations and work full-time, year-round, dropped to 75.9 percent in 2011, from 79.2 percent in 1980, the earliest year in the data series, and from a high of 83.5 percent in 1999.

For people who face limitations -- people with disabilities -- the full-time, year-round, "true job" employment rate has plunged to 19.9 percent, from a 1980-2011 peak of 39.3 percent in 1989 and from 34.7 percent in 1980.

In other words: Even if the headline unemployment figures aren't all that terrible, the percentage of all workers with "true jobs" has fallen quite a bit, and the percentage of workers with disabilities with true jobs has plummeted.

One problem here is that many people with disabilities who do want to work and stay off claim, or mostly off claim, can't.

Another problem  is that the pool of workers who are likely candidates for both group and individual disability insurance is shrinking. Employers are not all that quick to offer traditional group disability benefits to part-time, temporary and seasonal workers, and issuers of individual income protection policies and voluntary, employee-paid are not always thrilled to sell coverage to workers without permanent, full-time work.

PPACA seems likely to accelerate the push toward employers getting as much labor as possible from temporary and part-time workers, by keeping those temporary and part-time workers out of the pool of workers subject to the "play or pay" "shared responsibility penalties."

The owner of the Olive Garden reported that it ran into public relations problems when it experimented with getting out of new PPACA group coverage requirements by relying more on part-time help, but, really, how many employers are big enough and visible enough that customers will notice, or care, whether they are using more part-time help?

In a perfect world, Congress, federal regulators and state regulators could work together to come up with PPACA changes, incentives, punishments, etc. to encourage employers to continue to offer true jobs.

In this world, it seems as if we'll all be part-time and seasonal workers within a few years. And, of course, even with the part-time schedules, our hours will be strange enough that we'll still have trouble scheduling true vacations (in the hostels and hobo caps that will suit our future reduced resources).

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