Benefits, Not Just Paychecks, Have Fallen On Hard Times

By Gail MarksJarvis
Chicago Tribune.

Paychecks have been disappointing investors for years, but that’s not all that’s been putting pressure on household spending.

While companies have been stingy with raises since the 2008 recession, they’ve also been whittling away at benefits for the last five years.

So in many cases, workers have had to get by on frozen paychecks while also forfeiting the extras that might have stretched paychecks in the past.

The greatest impact typically has come from employers requiring employees to pick up larger portions of their health care costs.

But in addition, over the last five years employers have cut things like automobile subsidies related to business use, moving and relocation expenses, and costs related to picking up more education or training, according to a national survey of human resources professionals done by the Society for Human Resource Management.

The only compensation benefit that has increased since 2010, according to the survey, has been spot bonuses, one-time awards that recognize an employee’s performance.

Companies are still providing the benefits most employees assume are part of the workplace, although some of the benefits are less extensive than they once were.

About 95 percent of the employers surveyed offer prescription coverage and dental insurance. About 87 percent provide mental health coverage. Yet, while 83 percent offer vision insurance and chiropractic coverage, the survey found that roughly 1 percent of employers are planning cutbacks in those benefits over the next 12 months.

Some new health benefits have been added over the past five years, such as bariatric coverage for weight loss, mental health care and contraception. But costly additions are less likely than cuts.

The median cost for employee-only coverage for companies large and small was $5,838, and the human resources professionals are expecting a 6 to 10 percent increase in health care costs this year.

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