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Workers' Compensation Isn't What It Used To Be

Dustin Chambers
Jeremy Lewis lost part of his left arm in a machinery accident in an industrial plant in Alabama

Most of us don’t know much about Workers’ Compensation until we need it - and your experience will depend a lot on where you live. 

Caps on benefits and higher bars to qualify as “injured” are a few of the changes made in most states beginning in the 1990’s to lower the cost of Workers’ Compensation. 

Employers say the program costs too much for them to remain competitive, and convinced legislators and unions on both sides of the aisle to reduce benefits. 

Angie Wei, of the California Labor Federation says, "the cost of health insurance and the cost of Workers’ Comp kills our economy" and threatens jobs. So, until we get a handle on the cost of healthcare, workers' comp is going to "constrain how much we can return to workers."

But, guess what? Employers are paying the lowest rate for workers’ comp in close to 40 years, leaving workers - or taxpayers - to pick-up the tab when employees remain too disabled to return to work. 

Not since Teddy Roosevelt first called for “a grand bargain” between labor and management in 1907 have injured workers received so little from employers convinced they pay too much. 

So, is Roosevelt’s “grand bargain” still working today?

Today, we talk to Propublica reporter Michael Grabell and NPR correspondent Howard Berkes about their investigation -- and check in with how Connecticut is doing providing compensation to workers injured on the job.

You can read the joint investigation by ProPublica and NPR  on Workers' Compensation here and here.

You can join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.


John Dankosky and Chion Wolf contributed to this show. 

Betsy started as an intern at WNPR in 2011 after earning a Master's Degree in American and Museum Studies from Trinity College. She served as the Senior Producer for 'The Colin McEnroe Show' for several years before stepping down in 2021 and returning to her previous career as a registered nurse. She still produces shows with Colin and the team when her schedule allows.

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