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March, 2000, Vol. 123, No. 3
Health and retirement benefits: data from two BLS surveysDiane E. Herz, Joseph R. Meisenheimer II, and Harriet G. Weinstein
Employee benefits are an important aspect of job quality. In assessing the quality of different types of jobs, workers, employers, and researchers often consider benefits along with other characteristics of jobs, such as pay, job security, job safety, and the type of work involved.1 Many employers are concerned about the cost of benefits, which compose 28 percent of compensation costs for employers in the private sector and State and local governments.2 Public policymakers also frequently focus on employee benefits. For example, many observers have expressed concern in recent years about the number of Americans who lack health insurance. In response, policymakers have debated whether universal health coverage should be a national goal. Central to that debate are the role employer-provided health insurance plays in the current health care system and what role it might play in any proposed new system. Employer-provided retirement plans also have been the subject of public policy discussions. As the baby-boom generation—the huge cohort of Americans born between 1946 and 1964—approaches retirement age, concern has arisen about whether Social Security and private pension plans can withstand the strain of providing retirement income to so many people.3
Clearly, having accurate information on employee benefits is important for workers, employers, and public policymakers.4 Two BLS surveys provide estimates of participation in employee benefits plans: the Current Population Survey (CPS) and the Employee Benefits Survey (EBS). The CPS is a monthly survey of 50,000 households from which information is obtained on employment, unemployment, demographics, earnings, and more. The CPS is jointly conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Bureau of the Census. The EBS obtains data from establishments on the number of participants in a variety of employee benefits plans and the detailed provisions of those plans. The EBS is being incorporated into the National Compensation Survey, which, when fully integrated, will provide meas-ures of occupational earnings, trends in compensation costs, and participation in, and details of, benefit plans.5
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1 For a more complete discussion of the elements of job quality, including employee benefits, see Joseph R. Meisenheimer II, "The services industry in the ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ jobs debate," Monthly Labor Review, February 1998, pp. 22–47.
2 Employer Costs for Employee Compensation—March 1999, USDL 99–173 (U.S. Department of Labor, June 24, 1999).
3 See, for example, Sylvester Schieber and John Shoven, eds. Public Policy Toward Pensions (Cambridge, MA, MIT Press, 1997).
4 The importance of having accurate information to develop public policy on health care is discussed by Linda T. Bilheimer and Robert D. Reischauer in "Confessions of the estimators: Numbers and health reform," Health Affairs, Spring 1995, pp. 37–55.
5 For more information on the National Compensation Survey, see Harriet G. Weinstein, "Overview of the NCS: Summer 1998," Compensation and Working Conditions, Summer 1998, pp. 41–44.
Related BLS programs
Current Population Survey
Employee Benefits Survey
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