Monday, July 17, 2023

Earnings Disparities and Workers’ Compensation Issues Connected to Race and Ethnicity

Many employee benefits systems, including workers’ compensation, are pegged in a purportedly neutral fashion to earnings. Thus, in workers’ compensation we might say that a benefit is based on 66 2/3% of the preinjury average weekly wage capped at the state average weekly wage for a statutorily defined number of weeks. But embedded in this structural approach to benefit delivery is the reality that earnings themselves are demonstrably negatively impacted by race and ethnicity. The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs tracks these wage disparities by state. How does your state fare?

Aside from the structural wage issues I’m underscoring, more work is needed to investigate rates of injury and workers’ compensation claiming as impacted by race and ethnicity. A 2023 study I found through PloS One in the National Library of Medicine/National Center for Biotechnology is titled “Racial and ethnic disparities in workers’ compensation claims rates.” The study is authored by Caroline K. Smith, Sara Wuellner, and Jennifer Marcum.  Here is the abstract:

Workers of color experience a disproportionate share of work-related injuries and illnesses (WRII), however, most workers’ compensation systems do not collect race and ethnicity information, making it difficult to monitor trends over time, or to investigate specific policies and procedures that maintain or could eliminate the unequal burden of WRII for workers of color. The purpose of this study is to apply a Bayesian method to Washington workers’ compensation claims data to identify racial and ethnic disparities of WRII by industry and occupation, improving upon existing surveillance limitations. Measuring differences in risk for WRII will better inform prevention efforts and target prevention to those at increased risk.

This is well worth a read and warrants further discussion.

Michael C. Duff

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