American Association of Labor Legislation, a leading progressive reform group (Skocpol and Ikenberry 1983: 108-09; Skocpol 1992: 295-96).
Nevertheless, the CES devoted considerably more attention to medical care and various relief measures than to workers’ compensation. Along with unemployment insurance and old age security, medical care and public employment/relief constituted the four main working groups of the CES technical board. Though workplace accidents were all too common, the Committee argued that nonoccupational disability and sickness affected even more citizens and exacted an even greater toll on families and economic productivity. As for relief, while the Committee expressed a clear preference for public measures to boost employment, it did not expect all children or the elderly to support themselves through work (Committee on Economic Security 1935). Workers’ compensation was placed in a miscellaneous category, along with topics like survivor’s insurance and life insurance (Witte 1962). Achieving high visibility within the CES did not guarantee that a subject would be part of the administration’s proposals; recommendations for health insurance care were ultimately shelved, for instance, out of concern that objections from the medical profession might jeopardize the entire package (Witte 1962; Starr 1982).17 But without much attention from the CES, workers’ compensation faced an uphill battle.
Ironically, it appears that the early introduction and rapid spread of workers’ compensation contributed to its neglect during the formative stages of the Social Security Act. As policy makers surveyed the nation in 1934-35, they found many groups in greater need than injured workers and their families. No state had old age or health insurance, and only Wisconsin had a working unemployment insurance program prior to 1935. One- quarter of the states lacked any special program for the poor elderly, and some states with such programs made them county optional. Though subject to wide variation, monthly pensions for the poor elderly averaged under $15 a month in 1934, well below subsistence level (Committee on Economic Security 1937). Workers’ compensation laws, in contrast, had spread to most states by 1920 and were never county optional, always statewide. Though coverage varied by state, roughly 50 percent of all employed workers were subject to workers’ compensation laws in 1930 (Burns 1949: 187; U.S. Department of Commerce 1975: 126). Had compensation laws been adopted later, and not spread to many states, it seems reasonable to infer that Roosevelt’s Committee on Economic Security would have paid more attention to the plight of injured workers.
Even so, the influence of “Wisconsin school” reformers on the CES meant that the chances of substantial policy change would have been minimal, even with more attention. Scholars have already demonstrated the influence of the Wisconsin school on the deliberations of the CES, particularly with respect to unemployment insurance (Skocpol and Ikenberry 1983). Similar influences can be traced with respect to workers’ compensation. Arthur Altmeyer and Edwin Witte came to Washington with first-hand knowledge of workers’ compensation in Wisconsin. They believed, for instance, that the