New Benefits Data from the National Compensation Survey: Private Establishments with 100 or More Workers Were Much More Likely Than Small Establishments to Offer Medical Insurance and Retirement Benefits in 2003; This Information Comes from New National Compensation Survey Data on Employee Benefit Plan Coverage and Plan Details

Article excerpt

One of the greatest challenges a statistical agency faces is keeping up to date with developments in the economy and with the evolving information needs of the agency's customers. In addition to resuming a regular program of reports on the incidence and characteristics of employee benefits plans, the 2003 National Compensation Survey (NCS) employee benefits publications introduced a variety of new data tabulations. These new data items range from information on the percentage of establishments offering major types of benefits to their employees and the percentage of total medical premiums paid by employers and employees, to tabulations that link benefit plan coverage to workers' wages, to new details on such topics as the types of bonuses offered employees, employer contributions to cash balance pension plans, and orthodontic coverage for dependents of employees.

The new tabulations stem from several sources. First, employee compensation programs have long been a dynamic part of our economy. Wages and salaries, on the one hand, and employee benefit packages, on the other, evolve in response to a variety of pressures and needs. Employers seek competitive advantage in recruiting and retaining employees, while at the same time trying to control labor costs. Some compensation programs follow trends in collective bargaining; others reflect prevailing practices in an industry or among associated employers. Employee benefit plans are rewritten to meet legal or regulatory mandates. Second, customer requests have impelled the Bureau of Labor Statistics to introduce many new data tabulations. In some cases, these data focus on new elements of the compensation package; in other cases, the tabulations highlight fresh perspectives on employee compensation. Third, some of the new items result from a central goal of the NCS: to combine in a single place all of the data that were formerly collected and stored in several separate survey programs. (1) This integration of separate programs into one makes possible, for the first time, comparisons that look across the various forms of employee compensation data.

This article (1) briefly describes each of the new benefit data items, (2) reviews the 2003 survey findings, and (3) provides additional information to help place the new data in context. Included are definitions and, in some cases, calculational procedures. Finally, the article discusses limitations that should be considered in using the new data. An appendix at the end offers a glossary of technical terms.

New counts of benefits coverage

Most of the benefits data traditionally produced by the NCS and its predecessor surveys have come in three forms: a dollars-and-cents measure of the cost to employers of providing benefit plans to their employees (cost-level data), changes in employer costs over time (cost-trend data), and a measure of the number or proportion of employees who receive benefit plans (counting data). In response to requests from users, the NCS benefits program offers new counting measures that afford additional perspectives on benefit plan coverage beyond those published in earlier surveys. The NCS also provides a new measure of employer cost, described later in the article.

Establishment counts. Traditionally, the NCS has provided counts of employees. In response to customer requests, the 2003 private-industry survey published direct measures of the proportion of establishments that offered major benefit plans to their employees. (2) The survey found, for example, that 47 percent of establishments offered retirement benefits to their employees, but that offerings differed sharply by the size of establishments. (3) For example, 45 percent of small establishments (those with fewer than 100 workers) offered retirement benefits, compared with 88 percent of larger establishments. The figures for health care benefits were similar, with 56 percent of small workplaces offering health insurance, compared with 95 percent of large establishments. …