Construction Industry Fails to Insure Workers, Even in Boom Times: Jobs Created with Stimulus Money May Lack Health Coverage

The construction industry, which stands to gain the largest share of new jobs generated by the economic stimulus package — 670,000 jobs nationally — has a dismal record of insuring its workers, even in the best of times.

A study released today by the Center on Policy Initiatives, Construction: Working Without a Healthcare Net, found that construction workers are more likely than workers in any other industry statewide to be chronically uninsured.

“The lack of health insurance is part of the whole picture of how the stimulus money will move California forward,” said Murtaza Baxamusa, study author and CPI research and policy director. “The jobs created in our state should alleviate, not worsen, the healthcare crisis.”

The construction industry is expected to gain more new jobs from the federal stimulus package than any other sector. Anticipating the industry’s rebound, the CPI study analyzes the quality of construction jobs in terms of wages, health benefits, and occupational hazards at the peak of the last construction boom in 2005.

Even in those good times, only 35% of construction workers in California had health insurance provided by their employers, compared to half of workers in all industries. Some construction workers relied on publicly funded programs like Medi-Cal, but 27% were completely uninsured for the whole year.

The construction industry accounts for 15% of the state’s chronically uninsured workers, more than twice its share of the workforce, Baxamusa found.

“Without changes in this picture,” he said, “many of the new jobs created by the stimulus will fall short of their potential to boost the economy because they leave working families without access to healthcare. And many of these jobs are low-paying, temporary, hazardous work.”

The report analyzes data from a statewide survey, and also includes stories of the personal impact: a 55-year-old concrete carpenter who is diabetic but skips his prescriptions some months and hasn’t sought care for a painful lump in his side; and an electrician whose young family went without dental checkups until he became unemployed and qualified for Medi-Cal.

CPI, a San Diego-based nonprofit research and advocacy center, has published prior analyses of statewide health insurance data, including The Working Uninsured in 2007.

Full copies of the Construction report are available on CPI’s website.

Susan Duerksen

Susan Duerksen is the communications director of the Center on Policy Initiatives(CPI), a nonprofit research and advocacy organization located in San Diego, and funded by private foundations and individual donations. A journalism graduate of Indiana University, Duerksen was a reporter for the San Diego Union-Tribune for 17 years.

Republished with permission from the California Progress Report.

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