low-wage workers vulnerable to workplace injury costs

For the 31 million American workers who earn a median wage below $11.19 an hour, occupational injuries and illnesses – and their economic impact – are of special concern, suggests a new policy brief from the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services (SPHHS). The brief was released in conjunction with a white paper that reveals injuries and illness among low-wage workers cost the nation more than $39 billion in 2010.

“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 the lead policy brief author Celeste Monforton, a professorial lecturer in environmental and occupational health at SPHHS. “For the millions of Americans living paycheck to paycheck, a few missed shifts can leave families struggling to pay rent and buy groceries.”

Low-wage workers make up a large and growing share of the U.S. work force, and are particularly vulnerable to financial struggle following occupational injuries or illnesses. The policy brief, “Mom’s off Work ’Cause She Got Hurt: The Economic Impact of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses in the U.S.’s Growing Low-Wage Workforce,” analyzes and contextualizes research by health economist J. Paul Leigh of University of California, Davis.

Leigh zeroed in on approximately 31 million people – 22 percent of the U.S. work force – in 65 occupations for which the median wage is below $11.19 per hour. Janitors, housecleaners, restaurant workers, and others earning that wage full-time will bring home just $22,350 per year – an amount that means a family of four must subsist at the poverty line.

Occupational Injuries Among Low-Wage Workers Pack a Big Economic Punch
EHS Today