Portable Benefits

Since the middle of the last century, America has historically relied on employers to provide workers with health insurance, retirement, short-term disability insurance, and other benefits. When almost all U.S. workers worked for traditional employers, this approach provided a stable safety net.

But these traditional employment relationships are becoming less common in the United States. According to economists Lawrence Katz and Alan Krueger, in just the last ten years the percentage of the workforce engaged in alternative work arrangements (such as contracting, temporary work, on-call, freelancing, and gig economy work) rose by almost half, accounting for 94 percent of total job growth over that period. A recent research synthesis by The Rockefeller Foundation and The Bridgespan Group found that at least 36 million workers are engaged in independent work, or roughly a quarter of the U.S. workforce, and could reach between 33 percent and 50 percent of the workforce by 2020. For those who earn some or all of their income this way, it is difficult, expensive, or impossible to access certain benefits and protections such as paid leave, workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance, tax withholding, and tax-advantaged retirement savings.

A diverse group of stakeholders – from CEOs to worker advocates – have come together to advocate for a system of “portable” benefits; that is, benefits provided outside of the traditional employment relationship, and which workers can take with them from job to job or project to project. Such a system would improve financial security and empower workers to take more control over their own economic future.