This year marks the one hundredth anniversary of Ohio’s workers’ compensation system. Ohio, along with almost every other state in the country, enacted workers’ compensation laws in the early twentieth century to protect workers’ and their families from being plunged into poverty by an industrial injury. In today’s challenging economic environment, however, too often political leaders view workers’ compensation and other worker protections only in terms of their costs, while forgetting the societal benefits which come from protecting the economic well-being of workers and their families.
Over the past twenty years, the Ohio legislature has enacted numerous workers’ compensation laws restricting eligibility for benefits, and many judicial interpretations of workers’ compensation law over that period have had the same effect. This trend in the area of workers’ compensation is part of a larger overall trend toward reducing legal and economic protection for workers.
It is easy for politicians to argue that laws and policies which reduce costs and increase profits improve the business environment, thereby contributing to economic growth and job creation. After thirty years of such policies, however, it is reasonable ask what the results have been. Since 1979, there has been a 75% increase in productivity, but the average American worker’s wages have increased by just 5%. In 2013, the purchasing power of a Worker earning minimum wage is less than it was in 1963. For a vast number of American workers purchasing power has been shrinking or stagnant, and income inequality has increased to extremes not seen in over a hundred years. As we continue struggling to emerge from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, we are in the midst of a ” jobless recovery.” Is it possible our policy makers are driving us in the wrong direction?
Henry Ford paid workers in his factory the then-unheard-of wage of $5.00 per day at a time when the average American worker earned less than half that amount. I doubt he did this out of kind-hearted generosity. More likely, he understood that it would not do him much good to mass produce cars if only a small handful of the population could afford to buy them. This country experienced enormous economic growth after World War II, when unions represented almost one in every three American workers.
A strong middle class has always been a powerful the great driver of economic growth and upward social mobility. I am in favor of policies which help the economy. I just don’t believe you help the economy by hurting workers.