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What we lose when our jobs are the only safety net

In response to the recent Supreme Court ruling that authorized a growing list of anti-abortion laws at the state level, a growing list of employers – from large corporations like Amazon to small businesses like Patagonia – announced that they would help their employees pay for abortion-related travel expenses. The list also covers industries: financial institutions like Bank of America, national retailers like Dick’s Sporting Goods and publishers like Condé Nast. Some, like Salesforce, will even help cover moving costs for employees who want to move to a state with more compassionate healthcare laws. Good for them. It’s nice to know that we can count on our corporate citizens to do the right thing for their employees, especially since nearly half of Americans couldn’t cover an unexpected $400 expense for, say, a abortion, according to a YouGov survey for the Economic Security Project. .

But do we really want big employers to have so much power over our health and livelihoods? Aside from whether or not these policies will work in a way that preserves employee privacy and confidentiality (the concerns and uncertainty that will likely lead to fewer employees choosing to use this resource), there is a Bigger problem: If you’re a stock clerk at Kroger in Little Rock, you’ll be able to expect financial support for reproductive care, but if you happen to work at the Walmart down the street in the state of origin of Walmart, your reality will be far more costly and potentially devastating.

Social Security, Medicare, Unemployment Insurance, Worker’s Compensation Insurance, and Family and Medical Leave are the only benefits fully mandated by federal law. For employers with 50 or fewer full-time employees, even the provision of health insurance is optional. And, given the lack of public health infrastructure in the United States, it’s also often prohibitively expensive for small businesses. With our partners at Reimagine Mainstreet, we recently surveyed over 1,200 small businesses around various dimensions of good jobs. We found that while small employers generally view benefits as an incentive for workers, the majority report that offering benefits is prohibitively expensive. More than 80% of small employers surveyed offer their employees some form of benefits, but less than half say their benefits include health insurance or paid time off. Black-owned small businesses are the least likely to report providing benefits because they tend to operate with the thinnest profit margins compared to other demographic groups.

So while an abortion assistance benefit is perhaps the most visible way we see employers directly impacting the well-being of Americans, we could easily replace pension contributions, paid vacation , tuition or a living wage in its place.

Employers who pay for abortion-related travel are just the latest example of the many ways we have ceded power, responsibility and beneficence to corporations at the expense of our democratic institutions. This means less power for workers, who will now be increasingly dependent on their employers for their basic well-being, reducing worker choice and power. According to a 2021 survey by West Health and Gallup, one in six workers keep their jobs because they are afraid of losing their health benefits, a fact that becomes more true for black respondents and those earning less than 48,000. $. Increasingly, if you live and work in the United States in the 21st century, the quality of your life is determined by who your employer is more than almost any other factor, including where you live.

The actors of the company are encouraged, above all, to retain existing customers and employees, to attract new customers and to line the pockets of their shareholders. With the exception of more inclusive business models, like B corporations and new stakeholder governance structures, the vast majority of companies are legally required to put profit first for the benefit of their shareholders. In a country where corporations are the de facto stewards of the public good, we can expect to see more public good with an asterisk.

For example, Starbucks is on this list of benevolent companies that will fund abortion travel for employees, but it has indicated that it cannot guarantee health benefits such as covered employee travel for abortions or gender-affirming skincare in unionized stores. At the same time, the company is reaping positive public relations for its latest benefit; it is brandishing it like a club against some of their workers.

And as with almost any public or private policy in US history, working-class families and people of color stand to suffer the most in a country that has outsourced the public good to private corporations. Women and people of color are more likely to be in low-wage jobs, more likely to have informal work, less likely to have jobs with competitive advantages or any benefits, to have lower rates of higher unemployment, to have more unstable jobs and to have several jobs. part-time jobs to make ends meet. We also know that BIPOC-owned small businesses tend to hire employees from the same racial demographic and operate on lower margins than white-owned businesses, which affects the quality of jobs they are able to. provide. All of this means that women and people of color are more likely to be excluded from the benevolence of these new private “public goods,” further stratifying the haves of the have-nots and limiting the economic power of communities that need it most.

Companies that alone provide abortion assistance employ approximately 5 million people in the United States. Most, if not all, have lobbyists or public affairs offices and the ability to bring their concerns to Congress. As a first step, they have all publicly declared their commitment to taking care of the health of their employees; but as a next step, they should band together — as they do for their business through organizations like the Business Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — and pressure lawmakers to pass laws guaranteeing every American access to the programs they have taken. take over for.


Adrienne Russman is the Director of Knowledge and Ideas at Common Future. Lauren Paul is Director of Policy and Partnerships at Common Future.

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