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December 2, 2013 In Brief

CT worker wages, hours decline Survey: CT employers to keep health plans

Connecticut's economic recovery remains stuck in neutral with recent news that the state shed about 4,200 jobs in October and September, despite the unemployment rate dipping to 7.9 percent.

Even more troubling, however, is the fact that people who are still employed are earning less, on average, and working fewer hours.

The state's private sector workweek averaged 33.6 hours in October, down four-tenths of an hour from a year earlier when the workweek averaged 34 hours, according to data from the state Department of Labor. Meanwhile, average hourly earnings stood at $27.71 at the end of October, down 21 cents or 0.8 percent from a year earlier. The average private sector weekly pay was $931.06, down $18.22, or 1.9 percent.

The numbers indicate that not only are Connecticut employers hesitant to add jobs, but they aren't giving raises or adding hours for existing staff either.

Oftentimes, when the state releases its monthly jobs data, the focus is on unemployment numbers. But worker hours and earnings also help shed important light on the state of Connecticut's economy, which is still struggling to recover from a nearly two year recession that ended in 2010.

Since then, the state has regained 58,900 positions, or 48.6 percent of the 121,200 jobs lost during the Great Recession.

Despite uncertainty around the Affordable Care Act, most Connecticut businesses still plan to continue offering employee health benefits, according to a recent survey by benefits consulting firm Mercer.

In its annual National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans only 8 percent of Connecticut respondents said they are likely or very likely to terminate their medical plans within the next five years. Nationally, 6 percent of large employers and 31 percent of small employers said they are likely or very likely to terminate their health plans.

The numbers indicate that employers still find value in offering health benefits to their employees, despite the option to allow workers to shop for insurance on Connecticut's new health exchange. Many employers still see health benefits as a key part of the incentive package and fear losing employees if they terminate health insurance coverage.

Meanwhile, Connecticut employers also saw their healthcare costs rise faster this year compared to the rest of the nation. Total health benefit costs for active employees increased 6.9 percent in 2013, to an average of $12,776 per employee. The national average was just a 2.1 percent increase.

When asked about their 2014 costs, Connecticut firms estimated that if they made no changes to their current plan, costs would rise by 9.3 percent. However, they expect to hold their cost increase to 6.1 percent by making changes to plan design and/or plan vendors.

Mercer's survey also found that:

• 58 percent of Connecticut employers offered a consumer-directed health plan (CDHP) with an account feature (Health Savings Account or Health Reimbursement Account) in 2013.

• 59 percent of all Connecticut employees covered in respondents' health plans are enrolled in preferred provider organization (PPO)/point of service (POS) plans; 14 percent in HMOs; and 27 percent in CDHPs.

Among all New England respondents, the average employee contribution amount for employee-only coverage is $137 monthly for a PPO/POS plan; $149 monthly for an HMO; and $77 monthly for a CDHP.

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