Outdated Laws Cause Employee Benefit Gap

2006-04-19 11:21

Employee benefit system

Even more serious than a wage gap between men and women, is an employee benefit gap. According to a soon-to-be-released book, "Leaving Women Behind: Modern Families, Outdated Laws," federal policies encourage employers to provide life insurance, disability insurance and even day care for children; yet not everyone is treated the same.

"Our major economic institutions - including tax law, labor law, and employee benefits law, as well as Social Security, and retirement policies - were designed for families with a full- time worker and a stay-at-home spouse," said Kim Strassel, editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal and co-author of the book. "By comparison, they punish every other arrangement." For example:

  • Because of rigid tax laws and employee benefits laws, if both spouses work full-time they will likely receive duplicate, unnecessary sets of benefits. A wife, for example, will be unable to acquire higher wages in return for forgoing health and pension benefits she acquires through her husband's employer.

  • In a free labor market, one would expect to find a wide variety of work arrangements. Not every two-earner couple will want to work 40-hour weeks. Some might opt for 25 to 30 hour weeks so they can spend more time with each other or raising children. But rigid tax and employee benefits laws make such arrangements largely impossible for people who need health insurance, pensions and other benefits.

  • Women raising children or caring for an ailing parent have other reasons to want flexibility in working hours. However, rigid labor laws often deny them the opportunity to attend a child's soccer game or take a parent to the doctor one week and make up the hours the following week.

The book argues that our nation's employee benefit system needs to be reformed in order to meet the needs of modern women, who are more likely to work part time so they can also take care of family members, and who move from job-to-job and in and out of the labor market more frequently than men.

"Leaving Women Behind: Modern Families, Outdated Laws" is a forthcoming book by Kimberly Strassel, editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal; John C. Goodman, president of the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA); and Celeste Colgan, an NCPA senior fellow. It is published by Rowman & Littlefield in cooperation with the Manhattan Institute and will be available at booksellers, including Amazon.com, this May.

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