Same Sex Couple Retirement Benefits

In another advance that helps solidify LGBT rights as legitimate federal concerns, the Obama Administration this week released labor data that included questions about the degree to which private and government workers have access to benefits for their same-sex partners.

 The National Compensation Survey is an annual review of a wide variety of employer-provided benefits.  This year they asked questions that allow us – for the first time – to measure just how much progress has or has not been made in providing equal employment benefits to workers with same-sex partners. 

 Two types of benefits were surveyed.  The first asked whether an employee had access to a defined benefit pension plan that would pay out to a same-sex survivor if the employee died first.  This benefit is available to 14% of workers, including 7% of those with private employers and 50% of those employed by state and local government.  Interestingly, most of these benefits are also available to opposite-sex unmarried couples (14%, 7% and 49%, respectively).

The other relevant question asked how many employees could access health care insurance for a same-sex (or unmarried opposite-sex) partner.  Thirty percent (30%) of all employees could access health care insurance for their same-sex partner, with private industry providing 29% of employees with this benefit, compared to 33% of state and local government employers.  In contrast to pension survivor benefits, this particular benefit is more available to same-sex than to opposite-sex unmarried couples.  The percentage of employers offering these benefits to opposite-sex unmarried couples were, respectively, 25%, 25%, and 28%.

For those of us interested in helping people have secure old age/retirement, the survey raised some red flags.  Only 68% of U.S. workers have access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan, and 20% of those with access do not participate.  That means only about 55% of current workers are covered by an employer-sponsored retirement plan.  That suggests that up to 45% of workers are planning to rely solely on Social Security and their own private savings during their retirement years (or don’t plan on retiring).  Clearly, if we are to continue promising people a golden retirement, we’re going to have to do far more to ensure they have the means to do so, whether they’re LGBT or not.

You can find a news release/executive summary of the report at http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/ebs2.pdf.

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