Getting Benefits

by Elizabeth Wilcox

How do you define family-friendly? Family-friendly is a relative term depending on your needs. And for many mothers, particularly single mothers and mothers whose husbands are self-employed, benefits are the key. After all, some estimate that employer-sponsored benefits can be of as much value as 20- 25% of income.

Where can you get the best benefits? The bad news, according to a recent report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), is that the number of employees covered by employer-sponsored medical plans in private industry has dropped over the last decade from 63% in 1992-1993 to 45% in March 2003. But the good news for women concerns retirement savings because more and more of these companies in private industry are turning to defined contribution plans rather than defined benefit plans that often carry five-year vesting plans. The reason this is good for women is that over the last 20 years, women in the 35-44 age bracket (key child-rearing years) on average remained with an employer less than five years. Therefore, these women didn’t benefit from the retirement savings that many of their male colleagues enjoyed.

Another point that the data released in September revealed is that on the whole you’ll have better luck getting benefits among larger employers than small. Nearly all of the larger private industry employers (100 workers or more) offered health insurance compared with just over half of smaller employers. And larger establishments were twice as likely as smaller to offer retirement plans as well.

In addition, full-time employees were much better off than part-time, especially when it came to getting access to health benefits. And those that made more than $15 dollars an hour fared much better than those who made less than that amount.

So if you need benefits first, as one single mother did at the start of my book, The Mom Economy, you’ll probably have better luck if you think big, use strong skills for which an employer is willing to pay a decent wage, and shy away from part-time.

Good luck.