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Weigh benefits carefully in today's job market

Flextime, healthcare, and retirement perks may be a bigger plus than a pay raise.

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Many American workers are understandably anxious about job security and compensation. Unemployment hit 5.7 percent in July, the highest level in four years; state and local governments are reducing workforces across the country; and real income has fallen 1.1 percent between 2000 and 2008, despite an 18 percent expansion of the economy.

This Labor Day, the United States will recognize the efforts of its 155 million employed people. Those Americans are well advised to become educated on the value of job benefits, both monetary and nonmonetary.

Benefits represent 30 percent of total compensation. They often include the traditional: retirement plans, vacation and sick leave, health insurance, as well as maternity and family leave.

As part of a cafeteria-style benefit program approach, some employers offer more tailored options, such as tuition reimbursement, parking and employee discounts, flextime, and telecommuting.

Benefits vary tremendously by industry, size of organization, and by sector – government, private, and nonprofit. A March Bureau of Labor Statistics survey documents significant differences in benefits among those sectors. Retirement and medical benefits are available to nearly all full-time state and local government employees, 99 percent and 98 percent respectively. Only 71 percent of private-sector employees received retirement benefits, with a larger 85 percent receiving medical benefits, the BLS reports.

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