An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2000 Annual Meeting of the American
Political Science Association. I thank George Lovell for his close and careful reading of the entire paper, and Dorothy Yee for research assistance. This project was supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Council of Learned Societies.
1. The original, and more gendered, name for this program is workmen’s compensation. The term “workers’ compensation” did not become common until the 1970s.
2. To be fair, workers’ compensation did not disappear off every scholar’s maps. Specialists in labor economics and industrial relations have remained interested in the program. But they ask different questions than the political scientists, historians, and sociologists who contribute heavily to the welfare state literature. They are more interested in the impact of workers’ compensation on accident rates and labor supply, and the cost-effectiveness of the program (e.g., Burton and Berkowitz 1971; Butler and Worrall 1983; Krueger and Burton 1990). Rarely does one find in these studies mention of political struggles over benefit levels and coverage, or comparisons with other social insurance programs. Although this neglect may reflect the practical difficulties of studying 50 different state programs rather than a single national program, such difficulties have not impeded study of AFDC.
3. Workers’ compensation is also unusual in that employers can deduct their expenses from their taxable income without having to comply with government rules concerning eligibility or benefits, as is true of company-based retirement and health insurance plans (Mont, Burton, and Reno 1999: 3).
4. Only the United States, Canada, and Australia have multiple workers’ compensation programs in operation (Williams 1991).
5. The only other social insurance program with significant statewide variation is unemployment insurance, and it pales in comparison. Average weekly unemployment benefits in the least generous states are still at least half as large as benefits in the most generous states, and the gap shrinks further if differences in cost of living are taken into account (U.S. Census Bureau 2000: 388).
Berkowitz (1987: 18-19) recounts the case of an immigrant worker who lost his leg on the job in
A court returned a verdict in his favor in 1910 and ordered payment of $1,000 in damages. The
ruling was appealed by the employer, but upheld in 1911. The money was finally paid in the middle of 1912. After paying lawyers’ fees, doctors’ fees, expert witnesses, and an interpreter, the worker was left with less than $100 – three years after the injury.
7. Maryland and Montana were the only state legislatures to enact workmen’s compensation without