Cover: Wage Loss Monitoring for Injured Workers in California's Workers' Compensation System

Wage Loss Monitoring for Injured Workers in California's Workers' Compensation System

2013 Injury Year Findings (First Interim Report)

Published Aug 31, 2018

by Michael Dworsky, Stephanie Rennane, Nicholas Broten


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Research Questions

  1. What are the trends in earnings losses for the average injured worker in California with injury dates from 2005 through 2013?
  2. What are the trends for workers with indemnity benefits?
  3. How do earnings losses for 2013 injuries compare with earnings losses for earlier injury years?
  4. How do differences in earnings loss levels and changes across subgroups of injuries compare?

This report presents new estimates of wage loss for workers in California who suffered a workplace injury or illness in 2013 and compares these estimates with trends before, during, and after the Great Recession. The authors matched injured workers with control workers in the same firm at the time of injury with similar characteristics and analyzed the impact of injury on labor market outcomes, including earnings and employment.

By the end of the second year after injury, workers injured in 2013 earned approximately 93 percent of what they would have earned in the absence of injury. These earnings losses were driven by workers who received indemnity benefits. Relative earnings were approximately 1–2 percentage points higher than relative earnings during and after the Great Recession (2008–2012). However, relative earnings were lower for workers in industries that were most affected by the Great Recession, workers in small firms, workers with low job tenure, workers with low earnings prior to injury, and workers with cumulative injuries. Workers with cumulative injuries in Southern California were found to have particularly poor labor market outcomes, with relative earnings ranging between 10 and 20 percentage points below the average for all workers with indemnity benefits. Continued monitoring of wage loss in future reports will provide a more complete picture of outcomes for permanently disabled workers as the effects of recent policy changes and economic expansion unfold. Additional research and policy attention should be paid to workers with cumulative injuries throughout the state and specifically in Southern California.

Key Findings

Overall worker labor market outcomes were slightly better in 2013 than in 2010–2012.

  • Injured workers' relative earnings were at 93 percent by the end of the second year after injury for the 2013 injury cohort.
  • This finding was a slight increase from 92 percent for workers injured during the Great Recession of 2008–2009 and the recovery period of 2010–2012, but it was still lower than the pre-recession average relative earnings of 96 percent.

Labor market improvements were concentrated among workers with medical-only and temporary disability claims.

  • Those with claims with permanent partial disability and other indemnity payments had worse outcomes than did those with medical-only claims across all injury cohorts.
  • Earnings for workers with permanent disability deteriorated sharply during the Great Recession.

Relative earnings varied by industry and nature of injury.

  • Workers in construction, manufacturing, retail, and wholesale had relative earnings after injury that were 7 to 8 percentage points lower than the average for all workers with indemnity benefits.
  • Workers with cumulative injuries experienced relative earnings approximately 14 percentage points lower than the overall average for workers with indemnity benefits.

Workers with cumulative injuries in Southern California experienced particularly poor outcomes.

  • Workers with cumulative injuries outside Southern California had relative earnings approximately 10 percentage points lower than the overall indemnity average, while those with cumulative injuries in Southern California were 15–20 percentage points lower than the overall indemnity average.


  • Continued monitoring of labor market outcomes for the 2013 and subsequent injury cohorts is needed to fully understand trends in wage loss and understand the impacts of Senate Bill 863. Given the slow pace of medical recovery and claim resolution for severe injuries, data on earnings losses several years after injury are necessary to directly assess the long-term impact of permanently disabling injuries. In addition, many provisions of Senate Bill 863, including reforms to medical care delivery, full implementation of changes to permanent disability ratings, and the establishment of the return-to-work benefit, were not fully implemented as of 2013 and will consequently need to be evaluated in future reports using more-recent data.
  • Given existing concerns about medical cost, indemnity claim frequency, and fraud in Southern California, the finding that earnings losses are systematically worse for cumulative injuries in Southern California indicates that this group warrants additional analyses in research and continued attention from policymakers. The analyses also identified differential earnings losses by pre-injury wages (with lower earners having lower relative earnings after injury) and by industry (with workers in construction, manufacturing, retail, and wholesale experiencing lower relative earnings). For some of these industries, such as manufacturing, the trends likely reflect slower recovery in industries that were most affected by the Great Recession and could indicate groups that would benefit from additional services, such as vocational rehabilitation or other return-to-work interventions.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was prepared for the State of California Department of Industrial Relations and conducted by the RAND Institute for Civil Justice (ICJ), part of the Justice Policy Program within RAND Justice, Infrastructure, and Environment (JIE).

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