Congress continues to fight over health care reform, and leading proposals still rely on employers providing health coverage even though fewer Americans get health insurance through their jobs.
In Minnesota, it's getting harder to find a job offering health coverage. A state survey shows that the number of job openings with those coveted health benefits has shrunk considerably.
Karen Amit of Eagan teachers English as a second language. She wants a job with health care benefits, but is having a hard time finding one. So she works without benefits, and that means her husband must keep on working so they can keep the health care coverage he gets through work.
Amit feels it's unfair to her husband because he's old enough to retire.
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"He's earned his reward," Amit said. "He's earned his R and R time, so I'm feeling major guilt here."
For people like Karen Amit who are looking for health care benefits, the Minnesota labor market has become worse. The state's Department of Employment and Economic Development found a clear pattern in the results of a recent job vacancy survey.
"Fewer jobs, fewer full-time jobs and fewer full-time jobs with health care benefits," said state labor market analyst Oriane Casale.
Casale said that over the last year, the number of full-time openings with health benefits sank by about 45 percent, to less than 15,000 jobs. Casale said the primary reason for the shrinking number of full-time jobs with benefits can be found in the size of the companies hiring.
Small companies now account for a much bigger portion of the job openings. The rule of thumb has been that the smaller the company, the less likely a job opening will come with benefits.
A year ago, about a one-third of the job vacancies came from companies with fewer than 50 employees. Now, more than half the job openings were in small firms. Casale said as small firms account for a bigger portion of job openings, even fewer are offering benefits.
A couple of years ago, 81 percent of the job vacancies in the smallest firms offered benefits," Casale said. "Now, only 58 percent of full time jobs in this smaller-size class of employer offer benefits. That's a big difference."
Leah Goldstein Moses runs a business consulting firm in Mendota Heights that employs about 10 people. Six of them qualify for health care benefits. She hasn't cut health benefits, yet. But managing health care costs that have risen for her as much as 30 percent annually is getting harder and harder.
"We have to keep our salaries down in order to manage our benefits," Moses said. "We have to be very conservative with how many people we hire, and just manage our costs because of the cost of benefits."
That declining availability of health benefits is showing up not only in new job openings, but across the state. U.S. Census figures show the percentage of people in Minnesota with employer-based insurance has dropped from 73 percent in 2001 to 64 percent last year. However, that's still better than the national average.
While Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has said the recession may be over, Casale points out there is a considerable lag time before the job market is likely to recover. In other words, any relief may be a ways away.
"The situation we're in now is that people have to make due with what's out there, and if that means taking a job without benefits, that's what it means," Casale said. "At the moment, I don't think that unemployed people have that many options."
Minnesota labor market analysts will begin counting job vacancies again in the next few months. Casale hopes the next survey might show the beginnings of a turnaround in job vacancies, and in openings that provide a health care benefit.