Beyond Basic Benefits Employee Access to
Other Types of Benefits, 1979-2008
by John E. Buckley
Bureau of Labor Statistics
Originally Posted: May 29, 2009
Since the late 1970s, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has collected data on employee access to
various employer-provided benefits beyond the basics of health insurance, retirement savings,
and vacation, sick and holiday leave. Periodically, BLS has modified the list of benefits by
adding those that were increasing in popularity and dropping those that showed no growth,
remained rare, or had limited user interest.
For many decades, the BLS National Compensation Survey (NCS) and its predecessor surveys
have collected and published data on employee benefits. The early surveys concentrated on the
presence among workers of major employee “fringe” benefits within sampled establishments.
(The percent of workers that have enrolled in a particular benefit or have it available for their use
is known as the “incidence rate.”) Generally, the data obtained from surveyed firms were tied to
commonly known benefits for which information was readily available and concepts easily
understood. For example, one question might be, “Does your establishment offer health
insurance to a majority of your office or plant workers?” Responses were limited to Yes, No, or
Data not available. If the answer was yes, the funding of the benefit was determined--that is,
whether the employer paid all of the costs or costs were shared by the employee. If a majority in
a group was offered a benefit, all workers were considered covered; if fewer than a majority was
offered a benefit, no worker was considered covered.
In the early part of the 20th century, nonwage benefits were sparse, and the term “fringe benefit”
was appropriate. In a 2001 article by BLS economists Robert Van Giezen and Albert E.
Schwenk, the authors noted that the cost of benefits in the mid-1920s “was still a very small part
of a worker’s compensation package, accounting for less than three percent of the emp