An article in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal describes how college administrators are now curbing the number of hours that adjunct professors can teach in order to limit the number of employees whose health insurance they must cover.
The Affordable Care Act requires large employers to offer a minimum level of health insurance to employees who work 30 hours a week or more starting in 2014, or face a penalty. The mandate is a particular challenge for colleges and universities, which increasingly rely on adjuncts to help keep costs down as states have scaled back funding for higher education.
A handful of schools, including Community College of Allegheny County in Pennsylvania and Youngstown State University in Ohio, have curbed the number of classes that adjuncts can teach in the current spring semester to limit the schools' exposure to the health-insurance requirement. Others are assessing whether to do so, or to begin offering health care to some adjuncts.
For anyone who understood the nature of the financial incentives involved, this result was perfectly foreseeable.
The restaurant industry was among the first to suggest that Obamacare would actually end up hurting workers lower down on the ladder. After the election, the CEO of Papa John’s, the pizza chain, was asked whether he thought his franchise owners might “cut people’s hours back . . . so they wouldn’t have to pay for health insurance.” He responded, “It’s common sense. That’s what I call lose-lose.”
In an article in the Weekly Standard recently, author Kate Havard explained how more and more restaurants are trying to keep their staffs small so they weren’t bound by the Obamacare requirements. The effect, of course, will be less work for waiters and cashiers and busboys. They are the people who are most in need of work and will be most easily be replaced by their employers.
So what do busboys have in common with adjunct professors? Everything. Despite all of the high-minded egalitarian rhetoric of the academy, adjuncts are the fast-food workers of the university. They don’t know from one semester to the next whether they’ll be employed. They don’t know how many courses they will be teaching. Many of them don’t have benefits. And now, thanks to Obamacare, even fewer of them will.