Bridging The Benefits Gap

Millions of people get no financial benefits from their jobs beyond their paychecks. And their numbers are growing every day.

CBS News Correspondent Wyatt Andrews in this "Eye On America" report introduces a group with a solution.

Melinda Giovengo is in the construction business, the virtual kind. She's begun a business constructing Web sites. She has clients such as auto dealers who come to her for a place on the World Wide Web, and she puts it together.

But what Melinda and husband Mike, both high-tech workers, have not put together is a family safety net. Neither has benefits, meaning no pension plan, no 401(k) and no health insurance for their three girls.

"If there's a crisis that comes up, we are going to be solely responsible for dealing with it and we're not prepared for it," says Melinda Giovengo.

"We're lost in society right now. There isn't anything out there that supports us," she adds.

In fact, working without benefits is now common in America. Hope Windell, another Internet freelancer, says that when she meets her friends for basketball, they pick teams by dividing the insured from the uninsured.

They get equal numbers that way. Who has benefits vs. who doesn't is a 1990s kind of jump ball.

"I mean, it's just nuts the number of people you meet who don't have insurance," says Windell.

And the trend isn't confined to high-tech workers. Labor economists now believe almost a third of all workers are part-timers, freelancers and self-employed contractors; that's tens of millions of workers with low benefits or none.

"This group needs a new safety net," says Sara Horowitz. She believes that labor law in America should be turned around to make things equal for freelancers.

Horowitz, who leads the nonprofit group Working Today, says too many laws assume that benefits come through employers - an assumption that actually harms freelancers.

Says Horowitz: "We need to start looking at the things that you get as a traditional employee and say there should be no difference for people in this work force."

Compare freelancer Melinda Giovengo to a full-benefit company worker, assuming they both make $40,000. Under the law now, the company worker pays only half the Social Security tax. Melinda Giovengo pays it all.

At a company, the group rate for family health insurance is $1,700 per year; but without a group rate, it's around $5,000.

At a company, the value of 401(k) matches and life insurance comes to $2,000; for Melinda Giovengo, it's zero. A 30-year company pension would be worth $12,000 a year; again Melinda Giovengo gets zero.

It's a stunning benefit gap that Horowitz argues must be closed.

"This family is working hard. Why shouldn't they have health insurance? Why shouldn't they have an easy way to put together a pension?" Horowitz asks.

Her basic idea is to change the laws to allow freelancers, such as Windell, t join together in nonprofit purchasing groups.

"They would have health insurance that was at an affordable rate, that had full tax deductions," says Horowitz.

"Same thing with 401(k)s and pensions," she says. "You should let groups provide 401(k)s. There should be group pensions rather than pensions from employers."

"Just the kinds of things that we think make up a civilized job are the kinds of things that this work force needs," adds Horowitz.

Many workers won't stay at one company for 30 years; that system is fading. So what they want is a new system that delivers benefits. The problem is, it needs to be invented.

For more information on Working Today, go to its Web site.

Part 1: The Freelance Economy

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