unemployed were placing the most pressure on the Administration to do something; and FDR made it clear that helping the elderly and unemployed were his top priorities (Perkins 1962; Witte 1962; Altmeyer 1966). In the mid-1930s “work accidents, after all, were a far less pressing problem than the lack of work” (Berkowitz and McQuaid 1992: 107). Indeed, some of the problems with workers’ compensation, such as increased claims in the early 1930s, were attributed to increases in unemployment (Committee on Economic Security 1937: 14). 15
The CES had little time to do more than this. The same executive order creating the CES also required the Committee to submit a report to the President by December 1, 1934. In effect, the CES had less than six months to survey, repair, and redesign the entire social safety net. With no time to waste and a relatively modest budget, CES officials had to make priorities. Unemployment and old age security topped the list of problems, and social insurance was the preferred remedy. Much of the Committee’s scarce resources therefore went to developing technically sound and politically feasible programs of old age and unemployment insurance.
The Committee did, however, find some time to address other social problems. One might think, given the clear bias towards creating truly federal programs linking national and state governments, that a program already well established in the states would have been an ideal target for national involvement. One might also think, given the backgrounds of key participants, that workers’ compensation could have played at least a secondary role in the Committee’s work. Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, who chaired the CES, had previously helped administer workers’ compensation in New York. Edwin Witte, executive director of the CES, and Arthur Altmeyer, head of the CES technical board, had similar experiences in Wisconsin. Along with FDR, those three were most responsible for crafting the administration’s proposals (Berkowitz and Berkowitz 1985; DeWitt n.d.). They were certainly well aware of the devastating toll inflicted by workplace accidents. On the very first page of their final report to the President, the CES noted that 14,500 workers had been killed and another 55,000 had been permanently injured on the job in 1933 alone (Committee on Economic Security 1935).
Moreover, a study that was commissioned and circulated within the CES, but never published, recommended major changes to existing workers’ compensation laws. The overriding emphasis of that study was on the need for national standards rather than a single national program. In almost every case, these standards would force states to make their programs more comprehensive and more generous. Among other things, the study called for all state laws to be compulsory rather than elective; an end to exemptions for small employers and nonhazardous occupations; blanket coverage of occupational diseases; shorter waiting periods for compensation; higher minimum and maximum weekly benefits; longer duration of benefits; and unlimited expenses for medical care (Kjaer 1934).16 Many of these same recommendations had been made years earlier, without success, by the