Monday, April 4, 2016

Economic Insecurity and Chronic Pain

Earlier this year, the estimable industry consultant Peter Rousmaniere published a report entitled The Uncompensated Worker: Financial Impact of Work Comp on Households.  In the report, Peter summarizes the realistic impact that workers compensation has on families: "The scenarios [explored in the report] show that a brief work disability often results in a sharp cut in take-home pay, after the deductibles are applied. An extended disability lasting for months can cause many injured workers to struggle to meet their household expenses, forcing these employees to dig into their savings and risk losing their financial cushion."

And in an article last week published on Insurance Business America, Mark Walls, Vice President of Communications and Strategic Analysis at Safety National, noted the economic anachronism that is our current work comp system.  "Today, there are lots of skilled craftspeople who earn more than that [an indemnity cap of $1,100/week].  For anyone who earns a good living, going on workers comp can be a devastating blow, when it should not be."

While the world certainly affords no law to make an injured worker rich, our current system doesn't even appear to allow some injured workers to avoid poverty.  These two pieces came to mind when I saw this headline recently in the Harvard Business Review: The Link Between Income Inequality and Physical Pain.  Researchers from UVA and Columbia hypothesized that there might be a link between fiscal pain and physical pain.

First, they looked at the consumption patters of over-the-counter painkillers among 33,000 US households.  Compared to households in which at least one head of household was employed, those in which both were unemployed exhibited 20% higher spend on OTC painkillers.  Next, researchers asked people how much physical pain they were currently experiencing, but did so after informing the respondent of the unemployment rate in his or her state.  Employment status again proved to be a predictor of physical pain levels and, interestingly, simply living in a state with a high unemployment rate appears to lead to higher reports of physical pain.  They also did a fun experiment involving undergraduates and buckets of ice water, but you can read the article see how that went.

The researchers sum up their findings across studies as follows: "When people encounter economic insecurity, they typically feel a lost of control.  A sense of control is one of the foundational elements of well-being.  When people lose their sense of control, their body goes a bit haywire and responds to stimuli differently - displaying a weakened resilience and a lower pain threshold."

So here's an existential question for you this Monday morning: Might the very system we've devised to address pain resulting from workplace injury actually induce pain instead?  

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1 comment:

  1. Very interesting psychological perspective.