mushroom coffee

One of my cat blogging acquaintances strongly believes that total rewards plans—which include health insurance, retirement, paid time off, life insurance and other benefits—are written for people with kids.

And she thinks it is criminal.

My friend wants a different approach: you should get a flexible mix of cash and other benefits that are more suited to your lifestyle.

I said—Hey, yeah, that exists. You’re not working in Eastern Germany under Soviet occupation. Most professional companies offer multiple options and choices.

She said—Yeah, but I want better choices than I have right now, and I don’t want to subsidize other people’s kids.

The Obamacare debate has turned many employees into more discerning consumers of healthcare and benefits. It’s a good thing. However, the other outcome has been a feeling that individual benefits are being undermined by another population that is less deserving of those same benefits.

People with kids get preferential plan-language treatment. People without kids pay higher premiums to offset larger group costs. Covering LGBTQ families—or even unmarried heterosexual partners—adds to the cost of healthcare for more “traditional” families. Modern retirement plans benefit older workers while younger workers will never retire. PTO banks that don’t differentiate between vacation and “sick days” seem to benefit people without kids who don’t get sick. Bereavement leave is never long enough. Workers compensation, short-term disability and long-term disability benefits are scammy. Why do we offer group coverage for financial planning and life coaching, but we don’t offer better mental health coverage? You get maternity leave; where’s my paternity leave?

I could go on and on about the complaints that I hear about total rewards packages, but one thing is clear: many employees differentiate the workforce as a mix of “makers” and “takers.” And everyone considers himself a maker who is being taken for a ride by some other group.

(Thanks, Paul Ryan.)

Now, it’s true that there’s only so much money to spread around. Yes, you pay for benefits that you will never use. But you drive on roads that are paved and maintained by my tax dollars. You put your kids in public schools that suck up my money. I don’t drive on those roads or have kids, but I’m not going to begrudge you the right to drive your kids to school on safe roads. (I just wish your kids weren’t such rotten assholes.) Lucky for you, I see a collective benefit in the investment in your safety and your kid’s education. And I see an advantage in investing in the workforce even when it doesn’t superficially benefit my bank account.

America could have better paid-time-off policies across the board. Our retirement scheme is a mess. Companies could do a better job of offering smarter benefits to working parents. But you don’t change the system by carrying a chip on your shoulder. You change the system by working hard, getting promoted and moving into a position of authority where you can implement better policy-related decisions.

Want change? Want better benefits and flexibility at work? Work hard, get into a position of power and make it happen.

(But don’t forget about the crazy cat ladies, okay?)


  1. Your complainer is right.

    In health insurance, the healthy people have long subsidized the sick people; the child-free, the child-full. In SS, the working subsidize the retired.

    Personally, I’ve always considered my paying taxes to civilize other people’s young monsters in schools I don’t use to be a good investment for living in a safe community.

    It’s called income re-distribution, and if you don’t like it the only place to move to is Ayn Rand’s fantasylands in “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead.”

    Or maybe the Tea Party will establish an independent country and all members will move to an island off Alaska, where Sarah Palin can keep an eye on them.

    Dearly to be wished.

    • I would check yo’self before you wreck yourself.

      Nobody is healthy for life. NOBODY. We all get sick. It’s just a matter of time before it happens to all of us. It’s the arrogance of those-who-have-not-yet-been-sick that drives those-who-have-been-sick up a fucking wall.

  2. Moderate Republican here… Agree with Bill’s comment, and hoping that the person you’re referring to is a GOP, because that’s only way it makes sense… And they’d still be 100% wrong. If they’re liberal, it’s an absurd stance to take.

    You either want Ayn Rand or you don’t. In all things….

    My first response on the kids front was “what about the old people?”… LOL….

    • It’s not as black & white as it seems. People who are healthy use healthcare. People have babies. Young people get old. Nearly 1-in-3 Americans will have cancer. People break bones, have accidents, get glaucoma, have strep-throat, etc.

      Somehow our illnesses are never as expensive or as offensive as the mythological “taker” who is fat, diabetic and eating a signature Ritz Carlton cake.

      That cake is good, btw.

  3. No one gets off this ride alive, even angry cat ladies. One day she’ll be the sick/injured person that all the other healthy people are subsidizing. It’s sad she can’t see that yet.

    • I have to tell you—life as a cat lady is always unfair. Health insurance. Work-life balance. Social norms.

      As a woman who shelled out thousands of dollars at baby showers in my 20s and 30s, it’s hard not to be like WHERE’S MY FUCKING BABY SHOWER FOR ROXY?

      People, man. They ruin everything.

  4. One suggestion I’ve seen made is that if a standards benefits package can include a spouse and children, a recipient of the same package who is single and without kids should be able to allocate the benefits to other people. For example, a retired parent, a sibling, a long-time roommate, a niece or nephew, etc.

    While I am in total agreement with what you’ve said, I do wonder if there might be some ways to make benefits equitable to more people outside the nuclear family model.

    (I’m Canadian, so I shouldn’t complain too much since basic healthcare is covered—but dental, vision, mental health, prescriptions, etc have to be paid out of pocket unless you have benefits/insurance.)


    We all subsidize things we don’t need or don’t agree with or don’t like. I’m sure I benefit from the stuff you people subsidize for me. It’s called the cost of living in civilization.

    Like Laurie says, if you don’t like it, work hard to get in a position to change it. Get off your butt and vote. Or move to a remote island (that you probably traveled to on that was partially paid for by various “subsidies”).

  6. You could solve a big part of this complaint by having companies drop their medical, pay the penalty, and let workers buy off the exchanges. It’s a little more inconvenient for the employee, but it is more equitable in light of these complaints.

  7. Our culture has forgotten about something called “the common good.”

    Most of us will pay a price at times for things that we disagree with. (e.g. I didn’t like that my taxes helped pay for the Iraq war.) My hope is that most of the time, we’re contributing toward something that benefits the whole of society.

  8. “Healthy” or “not-healthy” should have the caveat of “at this very moment.” I think we all know otherwise perfectly healthy people with cancer, or who simply had something they would have had no way of knowing about, and were suddenly faced with “not-healthy” issues.

    I guess my main take away from the whole concept of health insurance is that there are bigger problems than how many dependents I have, or whether or not I ate that extra cookie (which I totally did.) The healthcare system is messed up. You’re paying for me and my kid, sure, but we’re also paying for malpractice insurance, which has put many a private practitioner out of business, and we’re paying for bloated infrastructures at both hospitals and insurance companies. You’re paying for the insurance company rep to fly to Whistler for the annual conference. We’re paying for all sorts of things that drive up healthcare costs.

    I’ve said before that I wish there was a way to say ‘look, my kid is perfectly healthy. No tubes, a couple of ear infections, and that one thing that got passed around daycare – why does adding her to my insurance triple the cost?” But that’s not how it works, unfortunately.

    Add in people who are getting older, and with Baby Boomers hitting 65, that’s getting bigger by the day, and it all adds up to a mess.

    But trust me, if you’re paying to mitigate part of the cost of my child, or my husband, if you look at how much more we’re paying to add those dependents to insurance, you might be more understanding (that’s a general “you”, not you specifically, Laurie,)

  9. It’s nice to know these conversations are happening in countries other than mine -Australia. I am a Cat (and dog) lady too. And regularly have these same conversations with other Aussie Cat and Dog (ie childless) ladies ( and men!). I make it work for me by getting flexible work times from my manager, taking the days off if I need them to attend to other members of my family. It just takes confidence and negotiation with my manager to keep the playing field somewhat level in terms of flexibility. I accept that I probably subsidise others through my taxes, that is fine. But like Laurie, I just wish the little shits I am subsidising were a bit more respectful! But I am sure THAT is another blog post.

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