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The number of part-time U.S. workers who could see their hours cut because of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act could reach as high as 2.3 million, a figure considerably lower than some have theorized.

The number—from a study by UC Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education—is believed to be the first hard-data projection on the impact PPACA might have on the part-time jobs market.

Under PPACA, larger employers face penalties beginning next year unless they offer health benefits deemed affordable. As a consequence, critics of the law have suggested that millions of Americans will lose hours as employers try to skirt the law. The penalties in PPACA only apply to employers with 50 or more full-time equivalent workers.

The 2.3 million workers at greatest risk of having their hours cut amounts to 1.8 percent of the U.S. workforce, the center said.

That figure consists of people who work 30-36 hours a week, have incomes below 400 percent of the federal poverty level and do not receive health coverage from their employer.

The center’s numbers are based on firms with more than 100 employees. As a result, is said its findings might slightly understate the number of potentially affected workers.

Still, “while I think the problem is real, it is smaller than some have suggested,” the center’s chair, Ken Jacobs, said.

Those suggestions have been largely anecdotal, guesses really, rather than projections based on a close examination of the question.

“What’s interesting to me is that on some level, when we did this, a lot of people were projecting major changes in part-time work,” Jacobs said.

The numbers didn’t bear that out.

Not surprisingly, Jacobs said the center found that employees at highest risk are those who work in restaurants, hotels and building services, all sectors of the economy that rely heavily on part-timers and are seasonal.

The center’s findings, Jacobs said, were consistent with the impact of Hawaii’s health care law on work hours.

Hawaii requires companies to provide health insurance to employees working 20 hours a week or more, so the cost to employers there is much greater than under the PPACA. A study conducted in 2011 found a 1.4 percentage point increase in the share of employees working less than 20 hours a week as a result of the Hawaii law.  

Moreover, Jacobs noted that the 2.3 million estimate is still just that, a forecast that might turn out to be exaggerated.

“It doesn’t mean this would happen to all of these people,” he said, “and the overall amount of hours worked is likely to remain the same.”

That means that part-timers who had been working, say, 20 hours a week are likely to see their hours bumped up, while those with more than 30 hours see their hours cut.

Click here to read UC Berkeley’s report.