Survey Finds 1 in 6 US Workers Stay in Unwanted Jobs for Health Benefits

Matthew Gavidia
Matthew Gavidia

Matthew is an associate editor of The American Journal of Managed Care® (AJMC®). He has been working on AJMC® since 2019 after receiving his Bachelor's degree at Rutgers University–New Brunswick in journalism and economics.

A survey by West Health and Gallup found that Black workers and those making less than $48,000 in the United States were more likely to stay in unwanted jobs out of fear of losing their health benefits.

As the COVID-19 pandemic led to unprecedented unemployment rates greater than those seen during the Great Recession, job retention and turnover has become a significant concern for millions of Americans tasked with paying for essential products, such as food and rent, as well as health and medical service needs.

For those currently working, the rising cost of care may be proving such a significant issue that it is the primary reason for remaining in their jobs even if they would rather leave, according to a poll published today by West Health and Gallup.

Conducted online from March 15-21, 2021, researchers surveyed 3870 US adults aged 18 and over via the Gallup Panel.

Polling workers on whether they are currently working in a position that they want to leave but do not out of fear of losing their health insurance benefits, nearly 1 in 6 (16%) responded yes. Moreover, a statistically significant difference in this trend was found between Black and White Americans (21% vs 14%), with Black workers estimated to be 50% more likely to stay in their current job out of fear compared with White workers.

Hispanic workers (16%) were not found to be statistically different from either group.

“With at least 95% certainty (P < .05), Black workers are more likely to report staying in their jobs for their health insurance than are White workers.  So, we can state with high confidence that there is a difference between those two groups,” said Dan Witters, research director of the Gallup National Health and Well-Being Index, in an email exchange with The American Journal of Managed Care®.

“With the sample sizes we are working with, however, Black workers are not statistically significantly higher than Hispanic workers, so even though there is a 5% point spread (21% vs. 16%) we won’t report that we have high confidence that there is an authentic difference that isn’t a function of sampling error.”

When assessing survey responses by annual household income, 28% of workers who earn under $48,000 per year indicated they are staying in their current unwanted jobs for the health benefits, which is nearly 3 times greater than those earning at least $120,000 per year (10%).

So, what is contributing to this fear?

Researchers polled the workers on their concerns about the cost of health care. Regardless of race or ethnicity, all adults were worried that the rising cost of health care will continue to increase to the point of being unaffordable (White adults, 50%; Black adults, 59%; Hispanic adults, 59%; overall, 53%).

In addition:

  • 52% were found to be either “concerned” or “very concerned” about the cost of prescription drugs
  • 42% were worried about not being able to pay for a major health event
  • 29% were worried about losing their job
  • 25% were concerned about losing their home due to their inability to afford their mortgage/rent

With current results showing that 135 million US adults may be affected by financial concerns regarding the affordability of quality health care, the survey additionally found many support greater federal government intervention to reduce the burden of health care on individuals and families.

By political affiliation, 81% of Democrats, 64% of Independents, and 43% of Republicans strongly or somewhat agree with government action that includes setting limits on drug price increases, capping prices for hospitals in certain markets with limited or no competition, and negotiating prices for certain high-cost drugs that have no competitors (both for Medicare and non-Medicare).

“All of these measures can have substantive implications for employers who provide health insurance benefits to their employees, as the steadily increasing cost of care has been a major impediment to controlling labor costs,” said Witters.

Speaking about additional steps to address health coverage and cost, Witters said that making Medicare available to everyone, regardless of age, would mitigate the burden of health insurance coverage for employers and could lead to reduced administrative costs.

“This, in turn, could lead to demand/expectation for higher wages among workers, so there is that.  And many employers leverage lucrative health benefits packages as a means of attracting talent, so a reduced need/importance for employer-based coverage would presumably undercut this strategy,” concluded Witters.