Health benefits more important than higher wages

Sep 22 2006 by Brian Amble Print This Article

With wage rises failing to keep pace with increases in the cost of living, most Americans feel they are getting poorer. But despite this, more than half say they value access to health care benefits more than they do higher wages.

A survey of 33,000 workers by the American Payroll Association (APA) has found that eight out of 10 Americans feel they are getting poorer, a sentiment that reflects official figures from the U.S Labor Department confirming that for the first time since World War II, most Americans have not seen their wage gains keep pace with inflation during a period of economic expansion.

Indeed in an indication that many Americans now live very close to the wire financially, nearly two thirds said if their pay cheque was delayed for a week they would find it very or somewhat difficult to meet their current financial obligations.

If they got a 100 per cent pay raise tomorrow, almost half said that they would use the money to pay off debts.

More than a quarter said they would put it aside for their retirement or invest it in their pension, with a tiny proportion - just 1.25 per cent - saying they would blow it on luxury goods or an expensive holiday.

Another concerning finding of the survey, "Getting Paid in America" is that many workers are not confident about their employers' ability to cope in the aftermath of a natural disaster.

Slightly more than 40 per cent were either not very or not at all confident that their employer would continue to be able to pay them after a hurricane or earthquake.

But once again, healthcare emerged as a major and continuing worry for most, with more than half of those surveyed saying they value access to health benefits more than they do higher wages.

The critical importance of workplace-based health coverage was underlined earlier this month in a study by healthcare foundation the Commonwealth Fund which found that the vast majority of adult Americans who try to buy individual medical insurance are unable to because it is simply too expensive or because they get turned down.

The popularity of health benefits among employees was not surprising, said Jeff Lemieux, senior economist at the Progressive Policy Institute.

"Getting health coverage through employers is convenient and reassuring," he said. "Employers handle the paperwork and payroll deduction of premiums, and can help resolve disputes with health plans."