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The Adoption of Workers' Compensation in the United States 1900-1930

Listed author(s):
  • Price V. Fishback
  • Shawn Everett Kantor

The adoption of workers' compensation in the 1910s, from a variety of perspectives, was a significant event in the economic, legal, and political history of the United States. The legislation represented the first instance of a widespread social insurance program in the United States, setting the stage for the later adoption of federal government programs for unemployment insurance, old-age pensions, and health insurance. In this paper, we show that the adoption of workers' compensation was not the result of employers' or workers' to secure benefits at the expense of the other group. Nor was the success of compensation legislation simply the outcome of Progressive Era social reformers' demands for protective legislation. Workers' compensation was enacted rapidly across the United States in the 1910s because the key economic interest groups with a stake in the legislation -- employers, workers, and insurance companies -- anticipated benefits from resolving an apparent first decade of the twentieth century, workplace accident risk rose, state legislatures adopted a series of employers' liability laws, and court decisions limited employers' defenses in liability suits, which all combined to substantially increase the uncertainty of the negligence liability system.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w5840.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 5840.

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Date of creation: Nov 1996
Publication status: published as Journal of Law and Economics, Vol. 41, no. 2, part 2 (October 1998): 305-341.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:5840
Note: DAE
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  1. Sider, Hal, 1983. "Safety and Productivity in Underground Coal Mining," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 65(2), pages 225-233, May.
  2. Fishback, Price V., 1992. "Soft Coal, Hard Choices: The Economic Welfare of Bituminous Coal Miners, 1890-1930," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780195067255.
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  5. Fishback, Price V. & Kantor, Shawn Everett, 1992. "“Square Deal” or Raw Deal? Market Compensation for Workplace Disamenities, 1884–1903," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 52(04), pages 826-848, December.
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  9. Kim, Seung-Wook & Fishback, Price V., 1993. "Institutional Change, Compensating Differentials, and Accident Risk in American Railroding, 1892–1945," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 53(04), pages 796-823, December.
  10. Price V. Fishback & Shawn Everett Kantor, 1995. "Did Workers Pay for the Passage of Workers' Compensation Laws?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 110(3), pages 713-742.
  11. Kantor, Shawn Everett & Fishback, Price V, 1996. "Precautionary Saving, Insurance, and the Origins of Workers' Compensation," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 104(2), pages 419-442, April.
  12. Leo Wolman, 1936. "Appendices to "Ebb and Flow in Trade Unionism"," NBER Chapters,in: Ebb and Flow in Trade Unionism, pages 172-239 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  14. Ronald N. Johnson & Gary D. Libecap, 1994. "The Federal Civil Service System and The Problem of Bureaucracy," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number john94-1, November.
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  17. Leo Wolman, 1936. "Introduction to "Ebb and Flow in Trade Unionism"," NBER Chapters,in: Ebb and Flow in Trade Unionism, pages -9--5 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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