A study from the Workers Compensation Research Institute hasfound that 10 years after an injury, the average worker receivedjust 88 percent of the earnings and income an uninjured workerwould have received.

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Related: For some injuries, worker choice might drive upcosts

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The study, which bases its analysis on aMichigan-based program, looks to find the answers to thesequestions: how the total income that workers receive after aninjury from benefits and earnings compares with what workers couldhave earned without an injury; whether the adequacy measures differby subgroups with different durations of disability; and how manyworkers experience large declines in total income after an injury,and how that compares with what is observed for comparable workerswithout an injury.

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It finds earning losses differ between workers who neverreturned to work and workers who did return to work and either keptworking consistently after an injury, worked sporadicallypostinjury or worked initially postinjury but later stopped workingentirely.

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The study measures the adequacy of workers’ compensation incomebenefits by presenting the earnings replacement rate — thepercentage of the earnings “uninjured” workers would have gottenthat was replaced by income benefits plus postinjury earnings. Thehigher this percentage, it says, the greater the adequacy of incomebenefits.

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Related: New research shows impact of underlying conditionson workers' compensation claims

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The intent in measuring the earnings replacement rate, it adds,is “to improve policymaker understanding of how well systems servedinjured workers in this respect in the past and to create a usefulstatistical tool for future assessments of income benefitadequacy.”

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For workers who were on temporary disability, the system workedfar better than it did for permanently or partially disabledworkers or for those who received lump-sum payments. Employees whowent out on temporary disability for up to 12 months were projectedto have a total income of 91 percent to 95 percent of non-injuredemployees’ earnings.

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But for those permanently or partially disabled workers, orthose receiving lump-sum payments, total income was only 69 percentof income for non-injured workers.

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The study also finds that after returning to work, only 44percent of workers out on temporary disability for more than onemonth stayed continuously employed. Another 31 percent only workedsporadically, and 21 percent had no meaningful return to work, oronly short-term, erratic employment.

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Related: California sees savings from workers' compreforms

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The authors conclude that, in light of the occurrence andearnings effect of sporadic employment after initial return towork, it’s important to consider policies that strengthenemployment in the intermediate postinjury term and that helpworkers maintain employment after they first return to work.

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