US: Young Workers Left Behind, Uninsured

Young Americans, leaving their parents house and entering the workforce, are increasingly likely to lack health insurance according to a new study from the Commonwealth Fund. As reported by the Associated Press, "40 percent of the 6 million people who joined the ranks of the uninsured from 2000 to 2004" were between the ages of 19 and 29, despite only comprising 17 percent of the population.

Washington, D.C., recently contemplated false reform to solve the problem of the uninsured. But the bills considered by the conservative Congress would only have exacerbated the situation. Luckily, as we'll see, states are taking the lead in finding real solutions to America's health care crisis.

The high uninsured rates among America's twenty-somethings should not be surprising. Young workers are less likely than their older counterparts to be offered insurance by their employers. And of those workers offered insurance, fewer are likely to purchase it. Why do they not pay for coverage? Because paying for health insurance means not paying for clothes or food.

As Progressive States Policy Director Nathan Newman explained recently, we now live in a country that would rather import professionals than pay to train them domestically -- a policy decision that has major consequences at home and abroad. The refusal to invest in accessible college educations leaves students weighed down with debt.

And the options for those who choose to not attend school are no better. As Change to Win has pointed out, wages for typical workers have stagnated while CEO pay skyrockets. Even worse, one time friends of workers like George McGovern are now dedicating time and energy into making the arguments of union busters.

Time is unlikely to solve these problems. New economic research shows that initial wage levels and benefit packages have a long-term impact on worker pay. Individuals who start their careers making little money and not receiving health insurance are likely to remain in that condition for some time.

The end result of this mix of policies is increased costs on government. Companies that shirk health care costs drive more workers into taxpayer-financed programs. And workers without health insurance still end up in emergency rooms, where costs are most often shifted to other workers.

Fortunately, states are weighing options to fix these issues. As reported by USA Today, Assemblyman Neil Cohen (pictured left) led New Jersey to allow young adults access to health insurance through their parents' plans up to the age of 30. Other states have passed similar, albeit narrower, bills. And still others are considering following on and expanding Maryland's example to level the playing field and make large employers pay their fair share.

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