Economists have estimated the medical and productivity costs of workplace injuries and illnesses for U.S. workers in all occupations. The slow economic recovery, however, has shifted job creation toward low-wage jobs and industries. This paper provides the first estimates of the numbers and costs of occupational injury and illness in low-wage occupations during the Great Recession, specifically in 2010.
To generate these estimates, I use critical definitions and assumptions to identify low-wage occupations, to define medical and productivity costs, and to note which occupations are omitted from the data and results. The paper reports on costs in 65 low-wage occupations for four classes of injury and illness: nonfatal injuries, nonfatal illnesses, fatal injuries, and fatal illnesses. I estimate 596 fatal injuries and 1,625,152 nonfatal ones, costing $441 million and $28.3 billion in 2010. For illnesses, the estimates are 12,415 fatal and 87,857 nonfatal cases, with costs of $8.77 billion and $1.53 billion. Seven low-wage occupations account for a substantial share of the injuries and illnesses, and the greatest total costs: retail salespersons ($4.5 billion); janitors and cleaners ($4.1 billion); maids and housekeeping cleaners ($3.1 billion); stock clerks and order fillers ($2.7 billion); food preparation and serving workers ($2.1 billion); restaurant cooks ($1.8 billion); and cashiers ($1.8 billion).
These estimates suggest that workers in low-wage occupations contribute significantly more medical and productivity costs than is generally assumed.