The Bureau of Labor Statistics has confirmed what benefits brokers have been saying all along: The group benefits market looks pretty stable this year, and new state and local laws have led to rapid improvement in paid sick leave benefits.

(Related: Group Health Take-Up Rates Hold Steady)

The bureau, an arm of the U.S. Department of Labor, gave a statistical snapshot of the benefits market Friday in a new batch of data from the National Compensation Survey program. The bureau received responses from 8,175 civilian employers of all sizes, including 6,728 commercial employers and 1,447 civilian employers.

The current batch of data includes a peek at employers health plans, retirement plan, life insurance benefits and paid-leave programs. A copy of the release is available here.

The bureau will release a more comprehensive survey program data, with data on many other types of benefits, including dental benefits and disability insurance benefits, in September.

Agents, brokers and other financial professionals can use the survey data in their marketing and business planning efforts. They can also use the data in social media posts, blog articles and client newsletters, because the Bureau of Labor Statistics benefits survey reports are all in the public domain.

Here are four benefits market report highlights.

1. The group health market looked about the same in March as it did a year earlier.

To some agents, brokers and plan administrators who see benefits buyers up close, the small-group health market may look grim.

To government survey teams, the group health market looks stable.

This year, about 70% of all civilian employers offer health benefits, 52% of the employees participate, and 74% of the employees offered benefits take up the benefits.

The figures for 2016 were about the same: In 2016, 70% of civilian employers offered health benefits, 52% of the employees participated in health plans, and 75% of the employees offered health benefits took up the benefits.

Workers (Photo: Allison Bell/TA)

(Photo: Allison Bell/TA)

The old numbers and the new numbers were also about the same at small private employers. There, health benefits offer rates increased to 67%, from 66%; participation rates held steady, at 47%; and take-up rates fell to 71%, from 72%.

2. The retirement plan market looks about the same.

In the retirement plan market, the offer rate increased to 70%, from 69% in 2016; the participation rate held steady at 54%; and the take-up rate fell to 77%, from 78%.

For private employers with fewer than 50 employees, the offer rate increased to 49%, from 47%; the participation rate increased to 34%, from 33%; and the take-up rate increased to 71%, from 70%.

3. The group life market looks about the same.

In the employer market, the group offer rate held steady at 59%; the participation rate increased to 58%, from 57% in 2016; and the take-up rate held steady at 98%.

For private employers with fewer than 50 employees, the offer rate increased to 36%, from 35%; the participation rate increased to 35%, from 34%; and the take-up rate held steady at 98%.

4. Access to paid sick leave grew.

Some states and cities have imposed sick-leave mandates in the past few years, and those seem to have had a noticeable effect on access to paid sick leave this year.

The percentage of civilian employers that offer paid sick leave jumped to 72%, from 68% in 2016.

The percentage of private employers that offer paid sick leave climbed to 58%, from 53%.

Growth in access was much higher at small public employers. At state and municipal government employers with fewer than 50 employees, the percentage with access to paid sick leave soared to 87% this year, from 74%.

The growth in sick-leave benefits could be the result of a stronger job market, rather than government mandates, but growth in sick-leave benefits, which are affected mandates, has been obvious. Access to paid vacation days, which is not affected by government mandates, is about the same this year as it was last year. 

— Read Small Employers Are Dropping Health Plans, EBRI Says on ThinkAdvisor