The ‘official’ US unemployment stats for March will be published on April 3, but several data sources assert that the US labor market worsened again in March. One from ADP, the company that processes one in six payments for US workers, calculates a loss of 668,000 jobs in March ’09.

Dow Jones Newswires’ survey predicts that private-sector jobs in the US fell 742,000 in March.

There is ‘no recovery in sight’ when it comes to health coverage for workers in America, according to the title of a report by Ken Jacobs and Dave Graham-Squire from the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education. The authors suggest that without significant health policy changes and comprehensive reform, even if/when the economy recovers, workers’ health coverage will not return to pre-recession levels.

And, according to Moody’s Economy.com, “the impact from the downturn in manufacturing is heading south from the Midwest. Job losses have broadened out across all industries because of the credit crunch, the lack of consumer confidence and the global slump.” The longer the recession lasts and the more jobs lost, the more uninsurance will rise in the US.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: The Conference Board says to watch the next two months, April and May, as this is the time of year when employees increase spring hiring. Challenger, Gray & Christmas are guardedly optimistic, finding that planned layoffs in the US fell to their lowest level in six months.

Forecasting the level of health uninsurance will be tricky in the next few months: there are two variables to keep in mind: benefit “stickiness” and health premium cost declines. Jacobs and Graham-Squire point out that employer-based health coverage is traditionally a ‘sticky’ business; once benefits are offered, they are difficult to take away. However, a loose (read: depressed) labor market turns sticky into fluid. We already see an erosion of health benefits offered by employers in recent surveys covered here in Health Populi.

The second factor, a decline in health premium growth rates, could mitigate some of the erosion of employer-sponsored benefits.

It’s important to look at the uncertainty with Chrysler and GM. The decline of the U.S. manufacturing base in the immediate term will have a continued negative effect on employer-sponsored businesses, and a further depressing multiplier effect that will impact businesses in both the ecosystem of the autos as well as businesses serving communities where there is a concentration of these once-richly rewarded jobs.

So, is there “no recovery in sight?” The Berkeley authors have it just right. We watch this week as the G-20 is meeting in London this week, seeking consensus on major structural policy changes for the global economy. At the same time, there is a restructuring happening in US employer-sponsored health benefits that’s resulting the new world of eroded coverage. From traditional stickiness, we’re moving to a position of being stuck in a nation of un- and underinsurance. It will take comprehensive reform to get us un-stuck.

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