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BY I. M. RUBINOW.
The movement for workmen's compensation for industrial injuries which began in this country with the act of May 30, 1908, covering only employees of the United States government has made very substantial progress during 1915, as far as extension to new states is concerned. At the beginning of 1915 there were 23 acts in effect, the odd years being the years when most legislatures meet. New laws were enacted in Oklahoma, Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Indiana, Maine, Montana, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Wyoming, so that by the beginning of 1916, 31 states had laws of this class besides the territories of Alaska and Hawaii, and there is also legislation covering U. S. employees, in the Canal Zone and the Philippine Islands, making altogether 36 compensation systems. The territory not yet covered by some system of compensation is at present confined almost exclusively to the South. In the beginning of 1916 only the following states had failed to pass compensation acts: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Dist. of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky (enacted a law in 1916), Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah.
In addition to new acts, a good many states revised their legislation usually improving or extending former enact
Since the first state act that remained in force was passed in 1911, the progress made during five years, in view of the difficulties offered by our political system, is fairly gratifying. The south has always been backward in social legislation, but nevertheless, even in the south considerable progress has been made as is proven by the acts of Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Kentucky, and in several other southern states official commissions are at work, so that the final acceptance of the compensation bills throughout the country is a matter of a comparatively short time.
It does not follow therefrom that the compensation situation can be described as at all satisfactory from the point of view of the American wage working class; in fact, with the exception of two or three states the direct opposite holds true and perhaps all of the acts will have to be re-written in order to comply with at least reasonable demands that the American wage workers may put upon the compensation legislation. The value of a compensation act depends upon the character of its provisions, and without going into too great a detail, the following points are essential:
The Essential Points.
First: The extent of the act; that is, the groups of wage workers covered and the extent to which the entire wage working class is protected.
Second: The scope of the act or the nature of accidents or injuries covered.
Third: The scale of benefits is perhaps the most important feature of a workmen's compensation law because inevitable comparison must be made between the opportunity of obtaining a verdict under the old liability situation and the compensation given under the new system. The greater security of indemnity under a compensation act should not be bought at too great a reduction in the amount to be obtained.
Fourth: Provisions for a system of insurance established. This is, perhaps, not as important a feature as it would appear from the emphasis placed upon it in American discussions of compensation laws, nevertheless it is of importance to the extent to which it provides a guarantee of payment, and from a broad public point of view to the extent to which, under a subterfuge, social protective legislation creates a new field for profit of private insurance enterprise.
Fifth: To these broad general standards, another one, specifically American must be added, based upon the distinction between compulsory and elective laws. For presumably constitutional difficulties, most of the states find it impossible to adopt compulsory compensation acts, and the compensation principle was smuggled in through the so-called legislative system by which both the employers and employees are urged to accept the compensation law under penalty of a more stringent employers' liability situation for the employer who refuses the act or a less stringent employer's liability situation for the employee who would refuse the act. While in most states the elective compensation laws become universal in their acceptance, at least in one state the compensation act is practically a dead letter, namely, New Hampshire, and the bad effect has been more general than that because under the necessity of making compensation more attractive to the employer than the old system of employer's liability, it was necessary to reduce the benefits under the compensation law.
An analysis of the old existing compensation acts is a complicated matter. The interested reader may be referred
to various analyses recently published of which the best are probably those to be found in Bulletins Nos. 126 and 185 of the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the very comprehensive analysis, prepared by Prof. F. Robertson Jones, and published by the Workmen's Compensation Publicity Bureau. In the table given here only the important features of compensation acts will be indicated so as to permit of some estimate as to the comparative values of those acts and the comparative necessity for amendment. Summing up the general status of compensation in this country, only eleven of the systems are compulsory, including the states of Arizona, California, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Washington, Wyoming, the Territory of Hawaii, the Canal Zone, and the U. S. Act. As far as the extent of insurance is concerned practically all the acts leave very substantial portions of the working class unprotected, the only exception being the State of New Jersey, with an act, very poor in many respects, but satisfactory in regard to its coverage. In some states all employees except domestic and agricultural labor, and casual employees are covered. In others the limitation is still narrower, only given lists of hazardous or "extra hazardous" injuries being protected. In almost all the states the compensation is given for accidental injuries only, but in California the system has been extended by a special amendment to occupational diseases, and in Massachusetts, and to some extent in Wisconsin, diseases due to occupation may be compensated. The prevailing scale of compensation is unfortunately utterly inadequate, being 50% of the average wages in some 22 out of 34 acts. It rises to 55% in Indiana; to 60% in Hawaii and Texas; to 65% in California, Kentucky and Wisconsin; to 66 2-3% in Massachusetts, New York and Ohio, and specific uniform benefits are provided in two or three states.
It should be quite obvious that at least all the necessary medical care that an injured workman requires should be provided for, but even in this respect most American acts are extremely miserly, and medical care in many of them is limited to the first two weeks only; in others an additional limitation of the total cost of medical aid to $100, $50, or even $25, as in Pennsylvania, is established.
A very serious aspect of compensation acts is the prevailing waiting period during which no compensation, except medical benefits, is paid, which is two weeks in most states and even three weeks in Colorado, and only in Illinois, Wisconsin, Nevada, Texas, West Virginia and Ohio, has it been reduced to one week, so that under ordinary circumstances the injured employee may have to wait three weeks before
he gets his first compensation, but seldom are the needs of injured or dependents provided for a sufficient length of time. There is usually a limitation of some 300, 400 or 500 weeks which in the case of permanently injured employees or widows and orphans, may prove to be entirely insufficient, and in addition, American compensation practice has created a new feature almost altogether absent in Europe, of socalled specific benefits for dismemberments. By this is meant a payment of compensation for a number of weeks specified in the law for such grave injuries as loss of part of body entirely irrespective of the need created by such injuries which usually is not at all uniform as between one man and another and one industry and another. The number of weeks for which compensation is payable in case of the loss of an arm, leg or any smaller part of an extremity, varies considerabiy as between states, but it may be said, that uniformily it is too short and the workman is deceived as to the total amount of compensation received because from the very first moment, and for a considerable time, he receives full compensation, that is, the full amount according to the legal standard, whether 50% or two-thirds, though he may continue earning some smaller amount. But the day must inevitably come when the payment of compensation will be discontinued entirely, though the earning capacity may not have returned.
Legislation Becoming Worse.
It is a significant fact that while several acts have been substantially improved recently, and that the amendments in general are towards strengthening the compensation and increasing scales, as for instance in Massachusetts, and to a slight extent in Connecticut and Minnesota, nevertheless, the new acts passed in 1915, as a rule are of a much worse type. There is a very substantial danger in the American wage workers accepting the low standards of compensation through force of habit, and it must also be remembered, that little assistance can be expected from other social groups in increasing the compensation scale though such assistance was very effective originally in obtaining compensation acts. The introduction of compensation was demanded on general public considerations, and it was even argued that the compensation laws would prove of advantage both to employer and employee. Whatever the accuracy of such a claim, it is quite obvious that a further improvement of the low standards prevailing in most of the acts will entirely devolve upon effective efforts of the working men alone.