Less than half of U.S. small businesses offer benefits to employees, according to research from LIMRA released this week. The firm finds that 47% of those with two to 99 employees offer benefits, the lowest level in two decades.

In its survey of 754 private small businesses, LIMRA spoke to the individuals who made or shared decision-making regarding business insurance and employee offerings. Samples were weighed by company size, industry and region based on U.S. Census Bureau data.

Seventy-eight percent of small American businesses are family-owned, LIMRA reports, and such firms had a sharper decline in benefit penetration (47% down to 40%) than non-family-owned ones between 2005 and 2012. Female-owned businesses, which accounted for a quarter of the total, tend to be smaller, produce less revenue and are less likely to offer insurance benefits than male-owned firms (37% versus 50%).

“The recession has had an impact on smaller employers’ ability to offer benefits, particularly those with fewer than ten employees,” says Kim Landry, LIMRA Product Research analyst. “The weak economy caused a lot of small firms to close, while the new firms cropping up to replace them are less likely to offer benefits. Many small businesses are also hesitant to add new benefits until the economy improves.”

Landry says that among those who do still offer benefits, health care and pharmacy remains the most popular by far, as well as the most common.

“These benefits provide an opportunity for small business owners to obtain coverage not only for their employees, but also for themselves and their families,” notes Landry. “We also found dental and vision coverage to be common offerings among small businesses, as these products tend to be very popular with employees.”

Life insurance also is offered frequently, because of its low cost and ease of administration, LIMRA reports. Accident insurance and short- and long-term disability, however, have what LIMRA calls fairly low penetration rates.

Census Bureau data reveal that 35% of the U.S. workforce is in small businesses, which account for 98% of American companies.

This article originally appeared on Employee Benefit News, a sister publication of Health Data Management.

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