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August 2004, Vol. 127, No. 8
Incidence benefits measures in the National Compensation Survey
Carl B. Barsky
About 60 percent to 70 percent of private industry employees had access to health insurance and retirement benefits and about half participated in them during 2003. Access and participation rates varied widely by the type of plan and by various employee and establishment characteristics. The availability of and participation in health insurance, retirement, and other benefits were both much higher among employees who were in full-time occupations, covered by union contracts, and who worked in large establishments and in metropolitan areas. New survey tabulations showed that availability and participation were also greater for higher-paid employees.
The percentage of employees with both access to benefits and participation in these benefits varied widely, from all employees in some instances to fewer than half in others. The survey did not study the reasons employees choose to participate or not to participate in various benefits. However, it is likely that the cost of the benefit to the employee is a determinant.
This article compares the four measures of incidence of employee benefits studied in the National Compensation Survey (NCS) benefits survey in private industry for 2003. The fact that an establishment offered benefits to some employees did not necessarily mean that all employees had access to such a benefit. Nevertheless, the percent of establishments offering benefits was often lower than the proportion of employees with access. This seeming paradox was generally true because large establishments are far more likely to offer benefits than smaller ones.
Measuring employee benefits
One of the problems in presenting data on employee benefits is how best to report on those benefits. This article largely addresses this issue and the different findings.
For wage and salary information, the NCS program generally obtains data for individual employees. This is done because there are often significant variations among individual employees in the rate of pay within the same occupation. However, employer-provided benefits do not vary in the same way.
This excerpt is from an article published in the August 2004 issue of the Monthly Labor Review. The full text of the article is available in Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF). See How to view a PDF file for more information.
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