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Poverty and Workplace Illness

A recent report issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration shows just devastating a workplace injury or illness can be to the individuals and families affected. An investigation into these injuries conducted National Public Radio and ProPublica found that severe injuries and illnesses send a huge percentage of lower and middle class workers into poverty. The studies highlight the impact of an attack on worker's compensation payments in a number of states. Since 2004, 33 states have made changes to the law that make it harder for workers who are injured or become sick at work to get financial assistance.

The OSHA report bore the telling title "Adding Inequality to Injury." The report paints a picture of an increasingly bleak picture for American workers. While lobbyists for corporate interests restrict worker's compensation payments, they also work to erode the penalties faced by businesses that put workers in danger. The Occupational Health and Safety Act was established 40 years ago. Since then, the fines that can be levied against employers who violate safety guidelines have been increased once. They represent almost no deterrent at all for businesses. With worker's compensation payments also down, employers have little to no incentive to provide workers with a healthy or safe work environment. 

In addition to the efforts erode compensation benefits, states have wildly different views on what an injury to a worker is worth. An injury in one state might yield 10 percent of the compensation it yields in another state. Workers are left to pay a substantial sum out of their own pockets in many cases. According to the OSHA report, workers pay roughly half of the total cost of an injury or illness in the workplace. The situation is contributing to the already massive disparity between workers and those who control their fate.

Source: NBC News, "Workplace Injury, Illness Pushing American Deeper Into Poverty," by Seth Freed Wessler, 4 March 2015 

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