Thursday, July 28, 2011

New government report tells us how many employees can include same AND different-sex domestic partners on their health benefits

This week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released a report on benefits offered employees in the public and private sphere in March 2011. For the first time, the data include the percentage of employees eligible for health benefits that cover domestic partners. The report includes separate statistics for how many employees can cover same-sex partners and and how many can cover different-sex partners. (The report uses the term "opposite sex." Several years ago some trans folks raised my consciousness about the term "opposite," and ever since I have used "different.")

While a gay rights perspective might be primarily concerned with access for same-sex partners, my "beyond marriage" perspective cares as much about access for different-sex partners. (The report does not include data on employers that offer a "plus one" benefit or access for anyone the employee lives with in an interdependent relationship, something I have written about often).

The big picture: 30% of workers have access to health benefits for a same-sex partner; 25% for a different-sex partner. State and local government employees are more likely than private sector employees to have this benefit. (33% vs 29% for same-sex partners; 28% vs 25% for different-sex partners). The report breaks down availability based on numerous criteria, including type of job, relative wages, geographical area, union and nonunion, and size of workforce.

I specifically looked for where the greatest discrepancy existed based on the sex of the employee's partner. Here are some interesting statistics. Those in unions were much more likely to have access to DP benefits than nonunion employees. But when nonunion employees did have such benefits, 27% could cover a same-sex partners and 23% a different-sex partner. Although 49% of union employees could cover a same-sex partner, only 38% could cover a different-sex partner. Of course 38% is still much higher than that available to nonunion employees, but I find the discrepancy interesting. And it's even higher if one looks only at private sector employees. There, 46% can cover a same-sex partner but only 31% a different-sex partner. Does it mean unions fight harder to cover same-sex partners?

Size of workforce also mattered. Where the workforce was under 100, coverage for same- and different-sex partners was close (18% and 16% respectively). But for workplaces of 500 or more, 49% could cover same-sex partners and only 38% could cover different-sex partners. In the private sphere, the discrepancy was quite large -- 54% compared to 41%. Perhaps the sheer number of heterosexuals who can take advantage of such a benefit is so high in large workplaces that employers resist coverage.

In all instances, there is a smaller discrepancy among public sector employees. When looking at the factor of workforce size, for example, 40% can cover same-sex partners and 34% different-sex partners. In most of the country, public employees were more likely to have DP coverage than private sector employees, but there are some odd anomalies. In the south, private sector employees are significantly more likely to have DP benefits. That's to be expected. But in New England, public sector employees also have less access to DP benefits than their private sector counterparts. I did not expect that.

The big winners? In the Pacific region, 84% of public employees can cover same-sex partners and 82% can cover different-sex partners. There are no percentages anywhere near those for any other region or any other characteristic examined in the report.

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