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Retailers Cut Staff Hours To 3-Year Low On ObamaCare

Retailers are cutting worker hours at a rate not seen in more than three decades — a sudden shift that can only be explained by the onset of ObamaCare's employer mandates.

Nonsupervisory employees logged an average 30.0 hours per week in April, the shortest retail workweek since early 2010, Labor Department data out Friday show.

Even as retail payrolls have kept rising, with rank-and-file employment up 132,000, or 1%, over the past year, aggregate hours worked have fallen 0.9% over that span.

The average retail workweek was 2% shorter in April than a year earlier, the steepest sustained decline since 1980, an IBD analysis found.

The retail workweek recovered steadily as the job market strengthened from the start of 2010 until the spring of 2012. Since then, it has been all downhill, with the apparent pace of decline accelerating in recent months.

This reversal doesn't appear related to the economy, which has been consistently mediocre. Instead, all evidence points to the coming launch of ObamaCare, which the retail industry has warned would cause just such a result.

Starting in 2014, large employers will face nondeductible fines of up to $3,000 per full-time worker who gets subsidized coverage via ObamaCare exchanges because qualifying coverage isn't available via the workplace. Next year's fines will be influenced by staffing levels in the second half of 2013.

One way for employers to minimize the costs of providing "affordable" coverage to modest-wage workers is to shift more work to part-time, defined as less than 30 hours per week under ObamaCare.

A multitude of companies have said they're considering a shift to more part-time work. Now, beyond the anecdotal reports, the ObamaCare effect is becoming evident in official data.

The Labor Department also reported last week that total employee benefits in service occupations fell 0.3% in Q1, the first de cline in more than a decade of data.

This could reflect a shift to part-time work and decisions to no longer provide health benefits to part-time workers, which are both ways to shift more of ObamaCare's costs to the government.

April's employment report also included other possible evidence of ObamaCare's impact, though it's premature to conclude how strong those effects will be.

Temporary jobs rose by 30,800 in April and 83,800 over the last three months. Staffing firms are expected to benefit as companies look for ways to minimize the cost of complying with ObamaCare.

It's also worth noting that overall private-sector employment has grown 75% faster than aggregate hours worked so far this year.

If job growth had only kept pace with total hours over the past four months, then the U.S. would have added just 463,000 private nonfarm jobs vs. the actual 813,000.