Examining Differences by Hispanic Ethnicity in the Propensity to File for Workers' Compensation Insurance
Policymakers are concerned that Hispanic workers disproportionately underreport workplace injuries, perhaps out of fear of reprisal from employers. At the National Action Summit for Latino Worker Health and Safety in 2010, Hilda Solis, Secretary of Labor, said, “…too many workers, especially Latino workers do not report violations. Many fear that they will lose their job or they fear discipline when they suffer an injury.” This type of underreporting would place an especially high burden on Hispanic workers who are employed in riskier industries and occupations and who have among the lowest rates of health insurance.
In this paper, I address two related questions in an attempt to quantify underreporting by Hispanic workers: (1) do Hispanic workers underreport both major and minor nonfatal workplace injuries and (2) are Hispanic workers who report a nonfatal workplace injury to a survey enumerator any less likely to file for WC than a similar white worker?
Preliminary results using National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) data show that Hispanic workers are 33% less likely to disclose nonfatal workplace injuries to a survey enumerator, and the biggest reporting discrepancy is for minor injuries (i.e., injuries of shorter duration). Preliminary evidence from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth – 1979 (NLSY79) data suggests that, conditional on reporting an injury to a national survey, Hispanic workers who are injured on the job are no less likely to file for WC (or receive WC benefits) than white workers. An additional feature of the NLSY79 is the ability to examine one of the hypothesized reasons why workers might underreport injuries: fear of losing one’s job. The NLSY79 data asks whether workers were laid off or fired following their workplace injury. I find some evidence that Hispanic workers are more likely to lose their jobs following receipt of WC benefits. This suggests that Hispanic workers might be rational in underreporting workplace injuries. If Hispanic workers are comparing the cost of job loss with the cost of medical care, which may range from $130 for an office visit to $799 for an Emergency Room visit, they may rationally decide to assume the cost of the medical care for work-related injuries.