Union Workers’ Health Coverage Less Affected by Recession

While both union workers and non-union workers’ employment-based health benefits were affected by the recession, union workers’ health insurance coverage suffered less, a new study shows.

Unionized workers are more likely to have health insurance coverage through their employer than non-union workers. What’s more, they were less likely to lose their employer-based health insurance coverage during the recession than their non-union peers, according to a new study from the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI).

In 2009, 5.6 percent of union workers did not have any health insurance coverage, the nonpartisan research institute says. Among non-union workers, 20.2 percent were uninsured in 2009.

“While it has long been known that union workers are more likely to have health insurance coverage than non-union workers,” the EBRI’s data show that “union workers with health coverage also suffered less of a decline during the recession than their non-union counterparts,” an announcement of the findings states.

In 2009, 80.4 percent of unionized workers had health insurance through their job. That was a slight 2 percent drop from 2007, when 82 percent of union workers had coverage through their employer.

By contrast, 52.2 percent of non-union workers had health insurance coverage through their job in 2009. That’s a 6.5 percent drop from 2007, when 55.9 percent of those workers were getting health insurance through an employer.

Moreover, the overall percentage of union workers with any employment-based coverage (either through their own job or as a dependent) fell from 93.4 percent to 91 percent — a 2.6 percent decline — while among non-union workers it fell from 74.3 percent to 70.6 percent — a 5 percent decline — during the same period.

The data come from the 2004 and 2008 panels of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation.

While there are a number of reasons why a worker would be uninsured, declining coverage because of cost was by far the No. 1 reason given by both union and non-union workers. Non-union workers are more likely than union workers to report cost as a reason for declining coverage. Approximately 84.4 percent of non-union workers declined coverage because of cost, compared with 75.7 percent among union workers.

Non-union workers were also more likely than union workers to report that their employer did not offer coverage, which was the second most common reason workers said they were uninsured. More than one-quarter (27.4 percent) of non-union workers reported this as a reason, compared with 17.7 percent of union workers.

“The analysis shows that unionization is a key to many workers having health benefits, and that during tough economic times, union worker health benefits suffer less,” Paul Fronstin, director of EBRI’s Health Research and Education Program and author of the study, said in a statement.

However, the EBRI warns that if unionization in the private sector continues to decline, the percentage of workers with employer-based health benefits will continue to decrease as well.

“[F]urther erosion of unionization is likely to coincide with overall erosion in the percentage of workers with employment-based health benefits, despite the fact that union workers are more likely than non-union workers to have health coverage through their job,” the EBRI states.

The union membership rate in the U.S. — the percentage of wage and salary workers who were members of a union — fell from 12.3 percent in 2009 to 11.9 percent in 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics latest Union Members Summary, which cites 14.7 million union workers in the U.S.


The Impact of the Recession on Employment-Based Health Benefits: The Case of Union Membership
by Paul Fronstin
Employee Benefit Research Institute, July 2011

Union Worker Health Insurance Coverage Less Affected by the Recession
Employee Benefit Research Institute, July 14, 2011

Union Members Summary – 2010
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Jan. 21, 2011


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  • July 27, 2011

    An interesting article, and one that makes sense. But the future is uncertain, and it remains to be seen if the hospitalization factor will be enough to boost union membership. Going to a group always involves some sacrifice, but then it also has its rewards.

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