If the coronavirus has been a bludgeon that has awakened our sensitivities to the challenges of unemployment benefits fulfillment and other economic issues, the other truncheon that threatens is the change we need in the social contract that exists within the American workforce.
Gallup recently issued a startling statistic: One-third of working Americans work in the gig economy, a workforce of “nontraditional, independent, short-term working relationships.”
The idea of life-long employment is as relevant as a horse and buggy. And that change of more jobs and fewer years devoted to one employer has been going on for years. There is an accepted myth that baby boomers were a solid bloc of committed workers who remained with the company for decades. Not true. Baby boomers averaged 12 jobs in their lifetime, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. If that seems surprising, how do we assess a new workforce when 90% of millennials believe that they’ll only work for three years before moving on to another job?
This is a dramatic shift with huge cultural and economic implications because it frays the once standard employment social contract between the private sector, the public sector and the American worker.
This change cries for modernization, and that translates into portable benefits, which is particularly lacking in the gig economy. (And keep in mind that the gig economy will continue to grow.) There’s seldom a simple “fix,” but modernizing the structure will improve the lives of our American workers while simultaneously providing a boost to the economy.
My solution is legislation that is workable and offers a strategic component. That’s why I have proposed Senate Bill 943, which applies to certain workers with a four-part standard:
- The policy must be universal and apply to all workers.
- Benefits must be portable and not tied to an employer-based program.
- Benefits must reflect the idea that many workers today are piecing together multiple independent opportunities from different companies or clients to make ends meet.
- Policy and benefits must offer a design that is innovative and flexible enough to respond to future workplace changes.
We frequently hear comments about the American Dream, especially in the realm of personal economics, when someone has achieved a degree of comfort, success and stability. I would ask where is the dream if you don’t have health insurance, can’t save for retirement, and don’t have access to worker compensation? Without these, the American Dream from an economic viewpoint is nothing more than a talking point.
I believe my legislation provides a solution that is prudent and practical and will gain support from those who recognize the benefits for themselves and the economy.
Sometimes new ideas fall into the catchphrase of being revolutionary. The concept of portable benefits might appear radical, but they are not. We only need to examine a few of the successful systems we have in place that mimic my solution.
Today, for example, no one questions the need for Social Security because it seems commonplace. Yet during its inception, it was both uncommon and to some revolutionary. Yet we have seen how its enactment has been a saving grace to millions of Americans. Portable benefits, in certain industries, including construction and entertainment, have been the norm for years. Because of the “worker movement” in these industries, they understand the stability that portable benefits bring to our personal finances.
To achieve success, we need the leadership to implement and expand programs, such as Senate Bill 943, to confront the changing face of the American workforce. There is a high probability that in your lifetime, you will be part of the American workforce that needs portable benefits. And if you do not, there is someone for whom you care that it will benefit.
In short, my legislation plans for the future. We must not delay because this effective legislation will provide us with the framework to meet our current challenge — the coronavirus — and to prepare us for unseen future trials.