Recent college graduates no longer rank health coverage above all other benefits when looking for employment, according to a new survey that shows how the 2010 Affordable Care Act is changing priorities for first-time job seekers.
The BGOV Barometer shows that annual wage increases were the most sought-after benefit among new graduates on the job hunt last year. Retirement benefits and tuition reimbursement were next, pushing company-paid health coverage to fourth place from the top rank for the first time in a six-year-old survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
“Health care was far and away number one every year up until this year,” said Edwin Koc, director of strategic and foundation research at the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania-based group of corporate recruiters and campus career directors that has been polling students and graduates since 2007. “It was a big surprise.”
The 2010 Affordable Care Act, which allows parents to keep adult children younger than 26 on their health plans, probably contributed to the change in priorities, Koc said. In 2011, the law helped reduce the number of uninsured Americans, the first annual decline since 2007.
About 540,000 more young people were insured in 2011, reducing the proportion of uninsured to 15.7 percent of the U.S. population from 16.3 percent the prior year, the Census Bureau reported in September. About 48.6 million people lacked medical coverage in 2011, down from 49.9 million in 2010.
The proportion of uninsured 19- to 25-year-old U.S. residents fell to 27.7 percent, a 2.1 percentage-point decline from a year earlier, according to the Census report.
The NACE survey is distributed to students at about 2,000 colleges. Between February and April last year, the web-based, multiple-choice poll had more than 59,000 participants, including 15,715 college seniors. The data on employment benefits was based on responses from graduates who had applied for a job at the time they took the survey.
While salary has always ranked high on students’ lists of priorities, Koc detects an attitude shift that began with the class of 2011.
“They want security and they’ve always wanted security, but I don’t think that they trust that they can get security in the workforce today,” he said. “The experience with the recession has caused them to think very carefully about what a job means and where they might go and what they want to be able to do. They want to develop their careers as a much more important aspect of that first job than just getting money.”
Koc pointed to the rising importance of tuition reimbursement for job hunters. In 2010, tuition reimbursement ranked seventh on the priority list, behind dental insurance. For the past two years it’s been in third place.
With 13.7 percent of 20 to 24 year olds out of work and national unemployment at 7.8 percent, a diploma and a parent’s insurance policy aren’t enough to give young job seekers leverage to demand higher salaries, Koc said. It could mean, though, that would-be employers should pay attention to the rising importance of priorities such as training.
“I don’t think employers have invested as fully in training as they maybe should have,” Koc said. “Employers have always been worried about the lack of skills. Now it’s the students, their new employees, that are also worried about it.”