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Washington-Baltimore benefits survey: Part-timers getting more perks

By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Employers in the Washington-Baltimore region offered part-time workers better perks this year, such as paid days off, in lieu of creating full-time positions, according to an annual survey of human resources officials to be released Tuesday.

This year, 73 percent of employers participating in the fifth annual Washington-Baltimore Metro Region Benefits Survey Report said they offered leave benefits to part-time employees, compared with 61 percent last year. Many extended medical, dental and 401(k) plans to employees who worked as few as 20 hours a week.

Employers might be willing to invest extra dollars to hold on to good part-time workers, personnel experts say, but are leery about investing more money to make them full time. That illustrates the fragility of the economic recovery, with some employers doing as much as they can short of expanding their payroll to boost productivity.

Employers "are trying to produce more with the folks they have. They're saying, 'Let me not overcommit my financial resources by bringing on new people,' " said Angelo Kostopoulos, president of Akron, a District-based firm that conducted the survey for the Human Resource Association of the National Capital Area, Washington Area Compensation and Benefits Association and local chapter of Worldwide Employee Benefits Network.

"There is an increased demand but not enough to warrant additional full-time folks," Kostopoulos said.

The 247-page study is based on a survey of 256 public and private employers with a total workforce of more than 224,000. Participants include the American Bankers Association, the Carlyle Group, Loudoun County government, Inova Health System, the Pew Research Center and CACI. About 70 percent of the employers were previously surveyed.

With rising health-care costs, employers continue to shift more of those expenses to workers. This year, 25 percent said they raised co-payments, compared with 23 percent in 2009 and 20 percent in 2008.

Workers are being hit hardest by out-of-pocket expenses for medical care; 13 percent of employers said their workers experienced increases in those costs this year, compared with 8 percent in 2009 and 4 percent in 2008.

The recession has fueled and damped down two benefits trends.

High-deductible consumer-driven health plans are growing; 26 percent of employers this year said they offered them, compared with 7 percent in 2006. But wellness programs, such as weight loss and smoking cessation courses, are losing traction; 13 percent of employers said they offered the programs this year, after jumping to 14 percent in 2009 from 10 percent the year before.

The shift from pension to employee-contributed 401(k) and 403(b) plans continued to accelerate. This year, 98 percent said they offered employee-contributed retirement plans, compared with 72 percent last year. Only 19 percent of employers this year said they offered pension plans, compared with 23 percent last year.

After suspending matches for retirement programs in 2009, many employers said they resumed them this year, in many cases at 10 percent, down from 13.5 percent before the recession.

"Now that the economy is attempting to come back, a lot of employers have decided the sky is not about to fall," said Joan M. Passerino, chief benefits officer for the D.C. Retirement Board, who helped prepare the survey. But "you don't have a full resumption of what life was like before 2008 -- at least not yet."

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