Researchers: Injuries, Illnesses for Low-wage Workers Cost $39 Billion in 2010

Published January 2, 2013

Low-wage workers are especially vulnerable to the economic impact resulting from occupational injuries and illnesses, according to a policy brief released Dec. 13 by researchers at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services (SPHHS). The policy brief was released with a white paper by J. Paul Leigh, PhD, of the University of California, Davis, which estimated the cost of occupational injuries and illnesses in low-wage occupations in the U.S. to be $39 billion in 2010. Most low-wage workers do not have paid sick leave, SPHHS researchers explain, and workers’ compensation either doesn’t apply to or does not cover many of the costs associated with occupational illness and injury.

The authors of the brief state, “We hope that having a $39 billion price figure for illnesses and injuries in low-wage workers will motivate public officials to address this problem more forcefully than they currently do. We recommend efforts to address both prevention and mitigation. Improvements in workplace health and safety can prevent injuries and illnesses from occurring in the first place.”

The policy brief and white paper are available online on, a website of the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy. Both were sponsored by the Public Welfare Foundation. Read more in the SPHHS press release.