Down the Rabbit Hole: The Economic Crisis and Workers Comp

October 23rd, 2008 by

We are all struggling to keep our bearings in a world where the conventional compass is spinning madly. The economic crisis has sent the stock market plummeting and has impacted every aspect of our lives. We wake up with the same thoughts that Alice had, following her fall down the rabbit hole:

I wonder if I’ve been changed in the night? Let me think. Was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is ‘Who in the world am I?’ Ah, that’s the great puzzle!

Great puzzle, indeed. For what it’s worth, here are just some of the financial crisis implications for workers compensation:
Illegal Immigrants: Our colleague Peter Rousmaniere has done a great job of keeping us up to date on immigration issues. He points out that all states (with the single exception of Wyoming) provide at least some comp benefits to injured, undocumented workers. Ironically, the collapse of the economy may be accomplishing what an ineffective Congress has been unable to do: with jobs becoming more difficult to find, many illegal immigrants are returning to their native countries. The scale of this exodus is only likely to impact the overall numbers if the recession turns into a full-scale depression. That is one “solution” to the undocumented worker problem that no one wants to see.
Older Workers: many older workers have seen retirement nest-eggs – in the form of equity in a home and stocks – disappear altogether in just a few weeks. These people will do everything they can to stay employed. Older bodies break down and are slower to heal. There are profound and as yet unknown implications for the workers comp system.
Lay offs: There are a number of factors leading to the loss of jobs, most of them related to tightening credit. Work has dried up in construction and related industries. Consumer-based industries, confronted with reduced demand, are cutting back on inventories. With credit more difficult and more expensive to secure, companies are having difficulty making payrolls. This means lay offs. Once the employer-employee bond is broken, desperate unemployed workers will scramble for any benefits they can find: while unemployment insurance provides support for just 26 weeks, workers comp can help pay the bills for years…
Commercial insurance: Insurers make money by conservatively investing premium dollars in the market. The float from invested dollars provides an essential cushion for covering future losses. Well, the float is no longer floating – it has sunk. Blue chip stocks have been transformed into cow chips. As a result, the margin of error for insurers is much tighter than it was just a few months ago.
A Dark Wonderland
We live in interesting times. The Republicans accuse the Democrats of socialism, even as they provide a socialistic intervention for Wall Street. The federal government cannot find money to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, but suddenly $700 billion is “freed up” (actually, put on the credit card) to bail out the financial system. We all recognize the need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, even as the earth cries out for less harmful forms of energy. Then oil, impacted by the collapsing economy, suddenly becomes cheap again. Is it my imagination, or is there less urgency in the talk about alternative energy sources?
The once reliable assumptions – steady growth, blue chip reliability, stability in the markets – have suddenly evaporated. We have tumbled down the rabbit hole and our world is becoming “curiouser and curiouser.” We have returned to a cruder form of the fundamentals, as outlined by the mock turtle: Reeling and Writhing, of course, to begin with, and then the different branches of arithmetic — Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision. In these undesirable respects, we are doing pretty well!
The Gryphon reminds us: “The adventures first… explanations take such a dreadful time.” Alas, we are still in the middle of our adventure, with no reasonable explanations in sight…