HIDDEN TRAGEDY: Underreporting of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses

Source: Majority Staff Report By the Committee on Education and Labor
U.S. House of Representatives, June 2008

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 requires the Department of Labor to
collect and compile accurate statistics on the extent of occupational injuries, illnesses and fatalities in the United States. Employers are also required to keep accurate records of workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths. Top officials at the Department of Labor (DOL) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) often cite declining injury, illness and fatality numbers to demonstrate the effectiveness of their programs and to fight off criticism that OSHA has abandoned its original mission of setting and enforcing workplace safety and health standards.

But extensive evidence from academic studies, media reports and worker testimony shows that work-related injuries and illnesses in the United States are chronically and
even grossly underreported. As much as 69 percent of injuries and illnesses may never
make it into the Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (SOII), the nation’s
workplace safety and health “report card” generated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics
(BLS). If these estimates are accurate, the nation’s workers may be suffering three times
as many injuries and illnesses as official reports indicate. Despite these reports, OSHA
has failed to address the problem, relying on ineffective audits to argue that the numbers
are accurate.

Experts have identified many reasons for underreporting. Twenty percent of workers– including public employees and those who are self-employed–are not even counted by BLS. Work-related illnesses are difficult to identify, especially when there are long periods between exposure and illness, or when work-related illnesses are similar to other non-work-related illnesses. In addition, recent changes in OSHA’s recordkeeping
procedures have affected the accuracy of the count of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). Finally, some employers are confused about reporting criteria and OSHA staff is often not well-trained to provide accurate advice.

But a major cause of underreporting, according to experts, is OSHA’s reliance on self-reporting by employers. Employers have strong incentives to underreport injuries and illnesses that occur on the job. Businesses with fewer injuries and illnesses are less likely to be inspected by OSHA; they have lower workers’ compensation insurance premiums; and they have a better chance of winning government contracts and bonuses. Self-reporting allows employers to use a variety of strategies that result in underreporting of injuries and illnesses.

Individual Retirement Accounts: Government Actions Could Encourage More Employers to Offer IRAs to Employees

Source: Government Accountability Office, GAO-08-890T, June 26, 2008

Congress created individual retirement accounts (IRAs) with two goals: (1) to provide a retirement savings vehicle for workers without employer-sponsored retirement plans, and (2) to preserve individuals’ savings in employer-sponsored retirement plans when they change jobs or retire. Questions remain about IRAs’ effectiveness as a vehicle to facilitate new, or additional, retirement savings. GAO was asked to report on (1) the role of IRAs …

Early Childhood Program Evaluations: A Decision-Maker’s Guide

Source: National Forum on Early Childhood Program Evaluation, December 2007

Despite increasing demands for evidence-based early childhood services, the evaluations of interventions such as Head Start or home-visiting programs frequently contribute more heat than light to the policy-making process. This dilemma is illustrated by the intense debate that often ensues among dueling experts who reach different conclusions from the same data about whether a program is effective or whether its impacts are large enough to warrant a significant investment of public and/or private funds.

Because the interpretation of program evaluation research is so often highly politicized, it is essential that policymakers and civic leaders have the independent knowledge needed to be able to evaluate the quality and relevance of the evidence provided in reports. This guide helps prepare decision-makers to be better consumers of evaluation information. It is organized around five key questions that address both the substance and the practical utility of rigorous evaluation research. The principles we discuss are relevant and applicable to the evaluation of programs for individuals of any age, but in our examples and discussion we focus specifically on early childhood.

Protecting Social Security Benefits from Predatory Lending and Other Harmful Financial Institution Practices

Source: Margot Saunders, National Consumer Law Center, Testimony before the Subcommittee on Social Security Committee on Ways and Means U.S. House of Representatives, June 24, 2008

…We estimate that on a monthly basis tens of thousands of low income recipients of Social Security,SSI and other federal payments whose benefits are entirely exempt from claims of judgment creditors are left temporarily destitute when banks allow attachments and garnishments to freeze their only assets. We believe our estimate of over 1 million recipients of Social Security and other exempt federal benefits a year who have their funds illegally frozen by banks is very conservative, and that the real number is likely much higher. As was illustrated in a recent Wall Street Journal article (“The Debt Collector vs. The Widow – Viola Sue Kell thought her Social Security benefits were safe in the bank. She was wrong.”),when a bank applies an attachment or garnishment order to the exempt funds in a low income recipient’s bank account, the consequences are generally devastating. There is no money for food or medicine. Checks written for rent or the mortgage are bounced. People go hungry. They get sick or sicker. They suffer anxiety. They are forced to pay steep bank fees and fees to merchants because the checks they wrote when they had money in the bank now bounce….

…Despite the explicitness of the federal law and the purpose of these benefits, banks (after receiving garnishment or attachment orders) routinely freeze accounts holding these benefits. When the account is frozen, no money is available to cover any expenses for food, rent, or medical care. Checks and debits previously drawn on the account (before the recipient learned that the account was frozen) are returned unpaid. Subsequent monthly deposits into the account will also be subject to the freeze and inaccessible to the recipient….

What Family Leave?

Source: Stephanie Mencimer, Mother Jones, June 23, 2008

When it passed in 1993, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was supposed to be the beginning of a new movement to reshape the workplace to reflect the needs of working families. But the bill–allowing some workers to take a few weeks off, unpaid, to care for a new baby or a sick family member without losing their jobs–is incomplete. It does nothing for people who simply can’t afford to take unpaid leave, while leaving out 40 percent of the workforce, including millions of workers employed by companies with fewer than 50 employees in a 75-mile radius, those who work part time, or, strangely, flight attendants. The US is the only industrialized country in the world that doesn’t provide paid maternity leave, putting it on par with such nations as Liberia and Swaziland, according to one study. But for 15 years the FMLA has been the beginning and the end of federal work/family policymaking.

How Economic Conditions Affect Retirement Decisions

Source: Monique Morrissey, Economic Policy Institute, Snapshot, June 25, 2008

Younger workers struggling to find a job now have something else to worry about: older workers with little choice but to keep working, even in a weak labor market.

The decades-long postwar trend toward earlier retirement reversed itself in the 1990s, as fewer workers found themselves covered by traditional defined-benefit pensions or had access to retiree health care benefits.

2007 State Health Care Workforce Survey Results

Source: Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, 2008

A 2003 survey of the shrinking public health workforce revealed a growing trend toward shortages in the public health workforce. Data from a recent 2007 survey of ASTHO members confirm that little has changed in the past several years and that state governmental public health still faces a workforce crisis.

Despite ongoing efforts, the state public health agency workforce is graying at a higher rate than the rest of the American workforce and state health agencies continue to be affected by workforce shortages. These trends combine to create critical challenges to the ability of states to effectively respond to threats to the public’s health.

The 2007 ASTHO State Public Health Workforce Survey revealed three major areas of concern:

A Graying Workforce
A Continuing Shortage of Workers
Barriers in Overcoming the Crisis

Artists in the Workforce: 1990-2005

Source: National Endowment for the Arts, Research Report #48, May 2008

From the press release:
Today, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) announces the release of Artists in the Workforce: 1990-2005, the first nationwide look at artists’ demographic and employment patterns in the 21st century. Artists in the Workforce analyzes working artist trends, gathering new statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau to provide a comprehensive overview of this workforce segment, its maturation over the past 30 years, along with detailed information on specific artist occupations.

Numbering almost two million, artists are one of the largest classes of workers in the nation, only slightly smaller than the U.S. military’s active-duty and reserve personnel (2.2 million). Artists now represent 1.4 percent of the U.S. labor force. While Artists in the Workforce is not an economic impact study, it does report the average income of various artist categories. Based on those statistics, artists earn an aggregate income of approximately $70 billion annually. The study compares artists with the labor force in general, reporting on factors such as geographic distribution, racial, ethnic, and gender composition, employment status, age, and education level.
See also:
Executive Summary

$228 Million Paid to County Governments as Compensation for Lost Taxes on Federal Lands

Source: U.S. Department of the Interior, Press release, June 12, 2008

Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne announced today that local governments with tax-exempt federal land in their jurisdictions will receive $228.5 million this year in compensation for forgone tax revenue.

Under the federal Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) Program, the money is distributed to about 1,850 county and other local governments around the nation to help pay for essential services, such as firefighting and emergency response and to help improve school, road and water systems.

The Department of the Interior annually collects about $4 billion in revenue from commercial activities on federal lands, such as livestock grazing, timber harvesting, and oil and natural gas leasing. Some of these revenues are shared with states and counties in the form of revenue-sharing payments. The balance is deposited in the U.S. Treasury, which in turn pays for a broad array of federal activities, including annually appropriated PILT funding to counties.

Eligibility for PILT payments is reserved for local governments (usually counties) that contain nontaxable federal lands and provide government services related to public safety, housing, social services, transportation and the environment.

By law, the payments are calculated using a mandated formula, based on the number of acres of federal entitlement land and the population within each county or jurisdiction. These lands include the National Forest and National Park Systems, National Wildlife Refuge System as well as lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and those affected by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation water resource development projects, and others.