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Health-insurance Coverage for Low-wage Workers, 1979-2010 and Beyond

Author

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  • John Schmitt

Abstract

This paper uses data from the Current Population Surveys for 1980 through 2011 to review trends in health-insurance coverage rates for low-wage workers (defined as workers in the bottom fifth of the wage distribution in each survey year). In 2010, over 38 percent of low-wage workers lacked health insurance from any source, up from 16 percent in 1979. The biggest reason for the decline in coverage is the erosion of employer-provided health insurance, either through a worker's own employer or as a dependent on another family member's employer-provided policy. Over the last three decades, the role of public insurance in providing coverage for low-wage workers has increased, though not nearly enough to offset the declines in private insurance. In 2010, about 10 percent of low-wage workers had coverage through Medicaid, double the share in 1979. While a great deal of uncertainty still surrounds the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and its likely impact on employers and workers, reasonable estimates based on consensus projections suggest that the ACA will have a substantial positive effect on health-insurance coverage rates for low-wage workers. Even so, the ACA will likely leave an important share of low-wage workers, especially low-wage Latino, African American, and Asian workers, as well as many immigrant workers, without coverage. At the same time, if the ACA is blocked – in the courts or in Congress – there is every indication that coverage rates for low-wage workers will continue their long, steady decline.

Suggested Citation

  • John Schmitt, 2012. "Health-insurance Coverage for Low-wage Workers, 1979-2010 and Beyond," CEPR Reports and Issue Briefs 2012-06, Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR).
  • Handle: RePEc:epo:papers:2012-06
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    File URL: http://www.cepr.net/documents/publications/health-low-wage-2012-02.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Baker,Dean, 2007. "The United States since 1980," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521677554, May.
    2. Baker,Dean, 2007. "The United States since 1980," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521860178, May.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    More about this item

    Keywords

    low-wage work; health insurance;

    JEL classification:

    • J - Labor and Demographic Economics
    • I - Health, Education, and Welfare
    • I1 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health
    • I13 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Insurance, Public and Private
    • I18 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Government Policy; Regulation; Public Health

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