Employee perks also victim of tough economy

The economy seems to be taking its toll on employee benefits in Washington state, according to a new report released April 2 by the state Employment Security Department.
Medical, dental, vacation and retirement benefits all took a hit last year.

For example, the percentage of employers that offered medical insurance to full-time employees fell from 66.3 percent in 2007 to 56.5 percent, in 2008. Fewer firms offered medical coverage to part-time employees as well, slipping from 11.2 percent in 2007 to 9.8 percent in 2008.

Firms that offered dental coverage to full- and part-time employees decreased to 37.4 and 7.6 percent in 2008, compared to 46.5 and 12 percent, respectively, in 2007.

“When companies have to tighten their purse strings, they figure that a job with fewer benefits is generally better than no job at all,” said Employment Security Commissioner Karen Lee.

The study showed that average medical-insurance premiums increased by 3.8 percent for employees, to $358 per month, and declined by 16.9 percent for dependent coverage, to $459 per month.

Fewer employers offered paid leave to employees last year. Those that offered paid sick leave dropped from 44 to 38 percent, while companies that offered paid vacation leave dropped from 73 to 63 percent. Paid holiday leave dropped from 68 to 60 percent.

In addition, 37.7 percent of Washington’s employers offered some type of retirement plans in 2008, with 34.6 percent offering defined-contribution plans (where an employee’s retirement benefits are based upon the amount contributed throughout his or her time of employment) and 5.8 percent offering defined-benefit plans (where the benefit-amount received upon retirement is guaranteed). Some employers offer both types of retirement plan. By comparison, in 2007, 44 percent of Washington’s employers offered some type of retirement plans, with 39 percent offering defined-contribution plans and 7 percent offering defined-benefit plans.

Employment Security has produced the benefits report annually since 2003. It paints a picture of the medical insurance, retirement plans and paid leave offered to Washington employees. The survey was sent last summer to about 16,000 Washington businesses that had two or more employees; it generated approximately 10,000 responses.

The full report is available online at http://www.workforceexplorer.com/admin/uploadedPublications/9595_EB_2008_Report.pdf#zoom=100