Over 20 Million Working Americans Lack Health-Insurance Coverage

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March 22, 2010

Between 1979 and 2008, rates of coverage fell dramatically.

For Immediate Release:March 22, 2010
Contact: Alan Barber, (202) 293-5380 x115

Washington, D.C.- Over 20 million US workers lack health insurance, concludes a report released today by the Center for Economic and Policy Research. According to the most recent data available, almost 17 percent of workers in 2008 had no health insurance of any form, up from only 7 percent without coverage in 1979.

The report reviews official government data on health-insurance coverage from 1979 through 2008 and focuses exclusively on workers.

"Over 20 million of the 46 million Americans without health insurance are working for a living," said John Schmitt, economist at the CEPR and a co-author of the report.

The biggest reason for the decline in coverage since 1979 has been a fall in employer-provided coverage, the report found.

"Coverage rates have fallen sharply over the last three decades," said Schmitt. "If we had maintained the same coverage rate we had in 1979, almost 13 million more workers would have coverage today."

Low-wage workers are the least likely to have health insurance. In 2008, 37 percent of low-wage workers (defined as the lowest-paid fifth of workers) had no health insurance, private or public. Even among workers in the middle, 12 percent lacked coverage.

Other findings from the report include:
  • In 2008, three-quarters of workersÿhad coverage through an employer. Of these, a large majority had coverage through their own employer, and a smaller share had coverage through their spouse's (or another family member's) employer.
  • In 2008, 7.0 percent of all workers had some form of public health insurance. Medicaid was the most important type of public health insurance for workers (almost 4 percent of all workers). Medicare (which covers some non-elderly workers with disabilities) covered a small share of workers (0.4 percent). Other forms of publicly provided health insurance, including military and veterans' health care, covered almost 3 percent of workers.
  • In 2008, only 5.5 percent of workers had health insurance purchased directly from insurers.
  • The 4 percentage-point increase in public coverage rates for low-wage workers between 1979 and 2008 was not enough to make up for a 25 percentage-point decline in private (mostly employer-provided) coverage.
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