Kristine Shields

At NASI’s 24th annual policy research conference, Social Insurance in a Market Economy: Obstacles and Opportunities, Laura Fortman, executive director of the Frances Perkins Center, said that “people are resilient, creative, and want to work.” Many speakers at the NASI conference touched on the importance of creating jobs, and getting people into those jobs, while increasing demand in the economy. The working and not working population drive outcomes for social insurance programs such as workers’ compensation, Social Security disability, and unemployment insurance.

At the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, we track outcomes of injured workers in the workers’ compensation system.  When an injured worker is off work and receiving benefits for an extended period of time, that person is not recovering his or her full wages. A worker receiving temporary total disability benefits–meaning the worker has not fully healed and has not returned to work–is only recovering about two-thirds of pre-injury wages.  If that worker serves as the primary income holder in the family, the worker’s family also suffers: they lose the portion of their income that could have been used on groceries, gas, or some other necessity. This, in turn, decreases demand in the marketplace. When that worker has fully healed and returned to work at full wages, the family is once again contributing at their original level of earnings and increasing demand.

Working on Montana’s recently appropriated stay at work/return to work program (39-71-1041, MCA), I can attest to the benefits of getting an injured worker back to work, even if it is in a part-time, light, or transitional job. An injured worker may have a false mindset that once injured it is best not to return to work or to participate in any physical activities at the risk of aggravating the injury. It is important to educate these individuals and let them know that working is a part of the physical and mental healing process. Most of the time, they want to return to work, they want to support their families, and they have a sense of pride and responsibility while they are working.

The same can generally be said for those that have disabilities and receive Social Security disability benefits, or those that are receiving unemployment benefits. There are many positives for individuals to work and to be valuable contributors to their communities. These social insurance programs are designed to provide relief and lighten the burden on the worker and the workers’ family, but finding work or returning a person back to work is the ultimate goal.  In many cases, what is good for the worker is also good for the economy. A productive working labor force is a catalyst for a thriving market economy.

According to The State of Working America 2008/2009, co-authored by NASI conference keynote speaker and Economic Policy Institute President Lawrence Mishel:

…working Americans are more productive than ever.Putting aside the current cyclical downturn, the men and women who routinely keep this country running have been working harder and smarter. Since the mid-1990s, the growth of output per hour- or productivity-has undergone a resurgence, and the folks responsible are the 140 million Americans who go to work every day.

The passage illustrates the value of our working population; highlighting the need for productive and hard working individuals. The state of our economy has improved since the publishing of this book, and, as the discussion at NASI’s annual conference emphasized, it will continue to improve if we focus on encouraging and helping  each working and non-working individual. Educating the public about social insurance programs—what they do, their goals and objectives, how they are funded, and how they contribute to the economy—creates an awareness, that these programs  help our friends, families, neighbors, and each one of us.

Kristine Shields is a Workers’ Compensation Research Analyst at the Montana Department of Labor and Industry. She is the lead analyst on a “stay-at-work/return-to-work” project that promotes communication between injured workers’, employers, and physicians to formulate a plan for a worker to return-to-work in a safe and healthy manner. Kristine was one of six students and young professionals awarded a scholarship to attend NASI’s24th annual policy research conference January 26-27, 2012, in Washington, DC.

Posted on: February 24, 2012

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