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Fewer Workers Insured As More Are Employed Part-Time, Study Finds

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UNINSURED WORKERS
Dental care is performed at the Remote Area Medical (RAM) clinic at the Los Angeles Sports Arena on April 27, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. Fewer workers are insured as more work part-time, a recent study found. | Getty

More than one-fifth of employed Americans lack health insurance, according to a recent survey, and that number is may be poised to grow as more workers take part-time or temporary jobs that don’t offer employer-provide health care.

Twenty-two percent of American workers lack health insurance, a Department of Labor-funded study from the Iowa Policy Project found. Though rising health care costs may be partly to blame, the study finds the larger reason revolves around the changing nature of jobs themselves. Employees are moving away from higher-paying manufacturing jobs and toward the service sector.

Simultaneously, employers are more often opting for temporary and part-time employees over a permanent and full-time workforce.

About 8.8 million Americans are working part-time while hoping for a full-time job, according to The Chicago Tribune. That number is double what it was in 2007. As the recession began to take its toll on the job market, the ranks of part-time workers have changed to include employees whose hours have been cut back to save a company money or college graduates grabbing at whatever opportunities they can get, The Tribune reports.

In Massachusetts, the number of part-time workers who want full-time jobs has quadrupled since 2000, The Boston Globe reports. As of August, the number of under-employed workers in the state jumped 18 percent.

Many of these part-time workers are employed by private companies, but some state governments are also relying increasingly on part-time employees as they struggle with budget shortfalls. In the year ended March 2011, the Ohio state government laid off 1,400 full-time employees and hired 386 part-time workers, according to The Dayton Daily News. Local governments in the state laid off 11,000 full-time employees and hired 6,000 part-time workers.

The shifts in the labor market to more part-time and temporary workers may require a change in the conversation surrounding employer-backed health insurance, according to the study’s authors. Eighty-two percent of survey respondents said they had employer-backed health insurance, but some had a medical discount plan, pushing the share of those insured down to 78 percent, the study found.

“The prevalence of more nonstandard service work and less full-time manufacturing work raises considerable job-quality issues that will pose challenges that may only be met by public policy,” the study authors wrote.

One issue that public policy may have to take on in order to increase the numbers of insured workers is tackling discriminatory labor practices, according to the study. Hispanic workers are “significantly less likely” to be insured than black or white workers, the study found.

“This last finding is most alarming, as it may suggest a discriminatory labor market, in which Hispanics are employed in inferior jobs that do not carry the same benefits as other jobs do,” the study authors wrote. “It may also suggest a language barrier issue, or a lack of awareness of worker benefits and rights.”

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