The Disney/Obamacare story, and what's really driving employment in the theme park business
Published: October 2, 2013 at 10:32 PM
Some background: The basic premise behind the law is "no more freeloading." You've got to pay for health insurance, either by having your employer pay for it on your behalf, or by buying it yourself. So the law requires companies to buy health insurance for employees who work over a certain number of hours a year.
Walt Disney World has decided to just go ahead and bump some of those eligible employees up to full-time status, which means more hours and benefits for those workers. But a story earlier this year reported that SeaWorld would cut hours for some of its employees in the same situation, so that it wouldn't be required to pay for their health insurance.
Opponents of the administration jumped all over the SeaWorld story, citing it as evidence that Obamacare would hurt employees. Now, supporters of the administration are crowing about Disney, and how this shows Obamacare is helping employees get better deals at work.
But changes in health care laws don't drive employers' decisions about adding or cutting hours nearly as much as one other factor does — how much money the company's making.
If there's money on the table to be had, companies will add the workers and hours they need to collect it. If there's no money there, hours and employees soon will be going away, too.
A little perspective here. The 400-some employees moving up to full time at Disney represent fewer than two percent of the resort's part-time workers. And Disney moves some part-timers to full time nearly every year at the end of summer. (Long ago, when I worked at Walt Disney World, I started as a "CT" [casual temporary] — part-time, seasonal — employee, but moved to full time at the end of the summer following my senior year in college. And no one outside his family knew who Barack Obama was back then.)
Obamacare or no, Disney's theme parks are having a good year, by all financial reports. So Disney can afford to bump up its employees' hours to take advantage and try keep its customers coming back. SeaWorld's suffered a tough year for attendance, so it shouldn't surprise anyone that company might be less willing to add hours, and might even be looking to cut.
What we don't know yet is how many employee hours Disney or SeaWorld is adding or cutting overall at their parks. That's what will really tell us about what's happening to employment. (In fact, SeaWorld is adding some full-time employees, too.) The new health care law might encourage a company to push a few part-time employees near the cut-off threshold to one side or the other of that cut-off. But those all-important revenue numbers will determine how many employee hours a company adds or cuts overall.
I'm sure that companies that don't want to admit they're having a tough time might be perfectly happy to let Obamacare take the blame for their layoffs or cutbacks. And I'm also sure that companies that are adding jobs and hours are very happy for whatever positive press others are willing to give them, thanks to this being such as hot issue at the moment.
But Obamacare isn't really the big issue here. Whatever effect that law might have is nothing compared to the direction of the overall economy. When people who are willing to spend have money in their hands, companies add jobs and hours. When people willing to spend don't have cash on hand, workers get cut. (That's one the reasons why the recovery from the most recent US recession has been so sluggish. The increases in income have been going mostly to very wealthy Americans, who are less likely to spend that cash than working-class Americans would be.)
If people have money and want to spend it at Orlando-area theme parks, SeaWorld and Disney will be adding jobs and hours. And if people don't have cash, or decide to spend it elsewhere, life's gonna get tougher for people in Central Florida. That's the simple, and more accurate, story.