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Making history: Labor Department issues first-ever data on domestic partner benefits

WASHINGTON – For the first time in U.S. history, the Labor Department today issued federal data related to benefits for same-sex couples.

The information shows how employers treat same-sex couples in connection with benefits.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said her organization welcomes the inclusion of same-sex couples in federal data collection as a step toward better understanding the needs of LGBT people across the U.S.

"With each effort to include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees in surveys like this, the Department of Labor moves us closer to being able to better serve the community,” Carey said. “Data collection is fundamental to addressing the disparities in employment, health, education and income facing our community. We thank Secretary Solis for taking this step in the right direction."

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, praised the inclusion of data on domestic partner benefits in the Labor Department’s National Compensation Survey.

“As with so much about our community – from the health disparities we face, to simply how many of us there are – we can’t begin to fully understand and address the challenges that LGBT people face until major surveys and studies actually ask about them. Thankfully, the Obama administration is taking critical steps to ensure that questions about LGBT people and our families are finally asked. We are grateful to Secretary Solis for her leadership at the Department of Labor as part of that effort,” he said.

“Offering domestic partner benefits has increasingly become a standard best practice in America’s workplaces, with nearly 60% of Fortune 500 companies offering them. The data released today reflects that progress, but also reminds us that, despite the advances in corporate America, many American workers still lack access to equal benefits for their families. For example, the NCS shows that only 29% of private sector workers have access to health insurance benefits for a same-sex domestic partner, and that number drops to around 20% in the South and Midwest. It also indicates that lower wage earners are much less likely to have access to these benefits,” Solmonese said.

What the study finds about domestic partner benefits

The data show a disparity in benefits of same-sex couples vs. opposite-sex couples.

For unmarried domestic partner benefits, about half the workers in state and local government have access to survivor benefits, as compared to 7% 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% 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.

For the first time, the National Compensation Survey produced data on employer-provided benefits available to unmarried domestic partners. Two tables show these benefits. Table 7 has information on survivor benefits in defined benefit retirement plans. Table 8 has data on health care benefits. See the Technical Note for additional information on unmarried domestic partner definitions and data.

Other findings

Paid leave benefits continued to be the most widely available benefit offered by employers, with paid vacations available to 91% of full-time workers in private industry in March 2011, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today.

Access to these benefits, however, varied by employee and establishment characteristics. In private industry, paid vacation benefits were available to only 37% of part-time workers. Paid sick leave was available to 75% of full-time workers and 27% of part-time workers. ( See chart 1.)

Paid vacations were available to 90% of workers earning wages in the highest 10th percent of private industry employees and only to 38% of workers in the lowest 10% of private industry wage earners.

Access to paid sick leave benefits ranged from 21% for the lowest wage category to 87% for the highest wage category. ( See chart 2.)

These data are from the National Compensation Survey (NCS), which provides comprehensive measures of compensation cost trends and incidence and provisions of employee benefit plans.

Additional findings

* 64% of all private industry employees had access to retirement benefits, compared with 90% of state and local government employees. Eighty-five percent of state and local government employees actually participated in a retirement plan, compared with 49% of private industry workers. ( See table 1.)

* Medical care benefits were available to 69% of private industry workers, compared with 87% among state and local government workers. About half of private industry workers participated in a medical plan, compared with about three-quarters of state and local government workers. ( See table 2.)

* Full-time workers in state and local government had a high rate of access to employer-provided benefits. Retirement and medical benefits were offered to 99% and paid sick leave to 98% of full-time workers. By comparison, only 73% of full-time employees in private industry had access to retirement benefits, 85% to medical care, and 75% to paid sick leave. ( See tables 1, 2 and 6.)

* For single coverage, employers paid 88% of the medical care premiums for full-time state and local government workers and 80% of the medical care premiums for full-time private industry workers. For family coverage, employers paid 71% of the medical care premiums for full-time workers in state and local government and 69% in private industry. ( See tables 3 and 4.)

* Paid sick leave was available to approximately two-thirds of workers. Nearly 9 out of 10 state and local government workers had access, compared with approximately 6 of 10 private industry workers. ( See table 6.)

More information can be obtained by calling (202) 691-6199, sending e-mail to NCSinfo@bls.gov, or by visiting the HEREBLS Internet site. Regional information offices, listed HERE, also are available to answer any of your questions.