Health Coverage for Low Earners Dwindles

June 14, 2001 ( - Employer-sponsored health insurance benefits in the private sector have dropped over the last two decades, with low-wage workers most affected, according to a report from The Commonwealth Fund.

In examining trends between 1979 and1998, the report, titled How the New Labor Market Is Squeezing Workforce Health Benefits, by the Center for National Policy, points out that:

  • two-thirds of private-sector workers had health coverage through their employers in 1979,
  • compared to just over half in1998

The decline was sharpest for those earning the least, with rates of own-employer coverage falling from 42% to 26% for workers in the lowest 20% of the wage scale, specifically:

  • the proportion of blue-collar employees receiving coverage through their own jobs fell from 63% to 43% over the period,
  • for white-collar workers, the number fell from 69% to 60%,
  • only 25% of workers earning less than $7.00 per hour had health benefits from their own employer in 1998,
  • compared with 80% of the top 20% of wage-earners received coverage.

Employees are now also more likely to pay a portion of their premiums. While 45% of employers paid the full share of premiums in 1983, only 26% did so in 1998.