This week the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics has, for the first time, released data concerning the domestic partner benefits that public and private employers provide.
This information has been collected as part of the federal government’s National Compensation Survey (NCS) which assesses over 15,000 employers nationwide. It is the first time that domestic partnership data has been collected, and the results, while unsurprising, are significant.
For unmarried domestic partner benefits, about half the workers in state and local government have access to survivor benefits, as compared to 7 percent of the workers in private industry, reflecting in part the difference in the availability of defined benefit plans between these groups. Thirty-three percent of state and local government workers and 29 percent of private sector workers have access to health care benefits for unmarried domestic partners of the same sex. Access to benefits varies by employer and employee characteristics and by whether the unmarried domestic partner is of the same or opposite sex.
This is just a snapshot, with more data to be posted in the fall, but Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, blogging on the bureau’s website, was keen to stress the importance of this data and also the importance of asking employers about these benefits in the first place:
For the first time, in order to better understand the benefits available to an increasingly diverse American workforce, this year’s National Compensation Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics includes information on domestic partner benefits, providing a better, fuller picture of employee benefits in workplaces across our nation.
The report shows that while 71% of all workers in private industry have access to health care plans, only about 1 in 4 such workers have access to a health care plan they can use to cover their same-sex or opposite-sex domestic partner.
High wage earners and union workers are significantly more likely to have access to benefits for a domestic partner, while only a small percentage of low wage-earners, non-union workers and part-time workers have access to these benefits.
This data obviously highlights a disparity between the range of benefits open to married heterosexual couples and those couples that are relegated to domestic partnerships and points to an even further division between opposite-sex and same-sex couples. That’s not earth-shattering news. What is important is that the first steps in bridging such disparities are made by identifying the problem and attempting to quantify it.
This is something the federal government has now undertaken by collecting data related to domestic partnership benefits. It is hoped that as a clearer picture emerges, short-term solutions to inequalities can be found until Congress can (and is prepared to) remedy them.