September 21, 2023 — That line, from W.B. Yeats' great poem, "Easter, 1916", comes to mind when we look back on what COVID has done to the US workforce in a scant few years. The good folks at the Workers' Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) have cast a critical-statistical eye over the recent COVID-addled period, 2019 to 2022, in their new research report:Changes in the Workforce and Their Impact on Workers' Compensation Outcomes (free to WCRI members). Your intuition as a risk manager is probably correct in that the report shows that COVID- related developments in the workforce have had a significant impact on the workers' compensation system nationwide.
The report looks at three major questions:
- What impact did increases in the unemployment rate, wages at injury, or age at injury have on the average indemnity payment and temporary disability duration?
- Did increases in job turnover during the last few years contribute to a faster occurrence of work-related injuries?
- What impact would an economic recession in 2024-2026 have on indemnity payments and the duration of temporary disability?
The report looks both forward and backward, using its dissection of recent workforce-related changes in comp experience to predict likely future developments as the new workforce conditions described continue to unfold. The study looks at a couple of different potential scenarios going forward (recession or not in 2024-2026), so there is no simple answer to any of the three questions posed above. The conclusions reported are nuanced but generally foresee a roughly 2% bump in baseline claim costs, leveling out in the next few years, depending on the large-scale performance of the economy.
If cost trends in comp are important to you, we recommend reading this report. The ways in which it details the cost outcomes impacts of COVID-related changes in the workplace are very useful. Research of this kind is a good tool for assisting your own thinking and analysis, whether you agree or disagree with the report's specific conclusions.
COVID is not the only factor impacting the composition and deployment of our workforces. We have the likely impacts of AI looming and all the changes going on in supply chains, not to mention the demographic shifts as Boomers exit the workforce and are replaced by the brand new, and different, Gen Z. We like the way the folks at WCRI, through their meticulous methodology, can help us think through the issues of relating these new currents in employment with the cost of risk going forward.
In the opening scene of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, a soothsayer (the predictive AI of 2,000 years ago) is asked to foretell the future. He says, with suitable modesty: "In Nature's infinite Book of Secrets, a little I can read." The WCRI report is equally modest in its claims, which makes it all the more useful for sober analytics.
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