The rapidly increasing cost of health care is driving the cost of living out of reach for many hard working Washingtonians. With increases in out-of-pocket costs for health insurance of over 60 percent over the last five years, many across the Northwest are struggling to find work that pays enough to afford these increasing costs.
These are the findings of a new study, "Living in the Red, Northwest Family Budgets Falling Behind: 2007 Northwest Job Gap Study," compiled by the Northwest Federation of Community Organizations. According to the report, between 2002 and 2006, the costs for employer-based health insurance grew by over 60 percent, almost nine times the growth in actual wages in Washington.
"Since I started this job in 2003, my health care costs have gone from $50 per month to $300 per month, but my wages haven't kept up," said David Miles, a security officer in downtown Seattle. "And I'm one of the lucky ones who has been able to keep health coverage. Many of my co-workers have had to drop it. It's hard to raise a family without a living wage and affordable health care."
Two reasons why health care costs are draining family budgets are high out-of-pocket expenses and cost-shifting by employers onto employees due to skyrocketing health insurance premiums. According to the report, as costs continue to rise, so does the number of uninsured. Further, the report cites national surveys that have shown that cost is the primary reason for why people are uninsured.
The report has calculated that a single adult in Washington must earn at least $11.51 an hour to afford basic necessities. For a household of one adult and two children, the breadwinner would have to earn $25.18 an hour to make ends meet. Competition for living wage jobs is high. Currently, there are twice as many job seekers as job openings that pay $11.51 an hour. For jobs that pay $25.18 an hour, the ratio is even higher at 8 job seekers for every open job that pays a living wage.
According to Peter Kardas, director of the Labor Center at The Evergreen State College, "The findings of this report call for a variety of public and collective efforts to respond to the human struggles that stand behind the numbers. The emphasis in the report on the skyrocketing cost of health care coverage points to the need for some form of universal health insurance. The inadequate number of living wage jobs reminds us of the importance of changing labor law, since unions are the most effective way for workers, through their own initiative, to achieve higher wages and benefits."
The study includes county specific data and ranks counties by living wage. King County residents have the highest cost of living, with a single adult needing at least $12.35 an hour of full time work to afford the basic necessities, including health care.
Washington Community Action Network pointed at the study as a reason to support the reauthorization of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, a bill recently vetoed by President Bush.
"The findings in this report clearly show the importance of programs like SCHIP, programs that keeps hard working families healthy, without breaking the bank," said Joshua Welter from Washington Community Action Network.