The High Cost of Low-wage Worker Injuries

Low-wage workers are very susceptible to occupational illnesses and injuries and the costs are staggering. A new white paper estimates that low-wage workers suffered more than 1.7 million injuries and illnesses in 2010 at a cost of more than $39 billion — $15 billion for medical care and $24 billion in lost productivity. The white paper was done by health economist J. Paul Leigh of the University of California Davis.

Leigh found that 77 percent of the 1.7 million injuries and illnesses are attributable to the top 20 low-wage occupations by number of employees. The highest number of injuries and illnesses occur among retail sales workers, janitors and cleaners, and maids and housekeepers. In these and other low-wage occupations examined in the report, the median wage is below $11.19 an hour, or $22,350 in annual take-home pay.

“Workers earning the lowest wages are the least likely to have paid sick leave, so missing work to recuperate from a work-related injury or illness often means smaller paychecks,” said Celeste Monforton, a professorial lecturer in environmental and occupational health at George Washington University’s School of Public Health and Health Services, and president of Beyond OSHA, a grantee of the Public Welfare Foundation. She is the lead author of a companion policy brief that gives the white paper additional context for policymakers. Both the white paper and the policy brief were funded by the Foundation.

“On average, more than 4,000 workers are injured on the job each day,” Monforton noted. “If we make workplaces safer, we not only stop losing billions of dollars each year, but we also could reduce the pain and suffering and financial impact on thousands of low-wage, hard-working Americans and their families.”

To view the white paper and the policy brief, click here.


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