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Heat deaths in the U.S. peak in July and August, and as that period kicks off, a new report from Public Citizen highlights heat as a major workplace safety issue. With basically every year breaking heat records thanks to climate change, this is only going to get worse without significant action to protect workers from injury and death.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration admits that government data on heat-related injury, illness, and death on the job are “likely vast underestimates.” Those vast underestimates are “about 3,400 workplace heat-related injuries and illnesses requiring days away from work per year from 2011 to 2020” and an average of 40 fatalities a year. Looking deeper, Public Citizen found, “An analysis of more than 11 million workers’ compensation injury reports in California from 2001 through 2018 found that working on days with hotter temperatures likely caused about 20,000 injuries and illnesses per year in that state, alone—an extraordinary 300 times the annual number injuries and illnesses that California OSHA (Cal/OSHA) attributes to heat.”


Extrapolating from that would suggest more like 170,000 heat-related workplace injuries and illnesses every year. Similarly, looking past the official fatality data, Public Citizen estimates as many as 2,000 workplace heat deaths each year. And heat can contribute invisibly to injury rates, as workers whose bodies are stressed are more likely to have falls and other causes of injury.

The workers most at risk are the most vulnerable workers—low-income workers, people of color, immigrants, and especially undocumented immigrants. The lowest-paid 20% of workers account for five times as many heat-related injuries as the highest-paid 20%, and “A recent review by Columbia Journalism Investigations of records relating to workplace heat injuries—including workplace inspection reports, death investigation files, depositions, court records, and police reports—found that since 2010, Hispanics/Latinos have accounted for a third of all heat-related fatalities, despite representing only 18% of the U.S. workforce.”

This is in part because the industries in which heat-related problems are most common are disproportionately Black and brown: farming, warehouse work, certain kinds of construction, food preparation, and more. These workers are also less likely to have health insurance or worker's compensation to help them when they do get sick or injured.

Public Citizen is calling on OSHA to issue an emergency temporary heat safety standard while it works through the long process of getting to a final rule on heat. Such a standard should include temperature thresholds, lower workloads during dangerous heat, indoor and outdoor cooling, hydration, training, record-keeping, non-retaliation requirements, and an emergency action plan in affected workplaces.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.

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A popular line on our recent surge of inflation is that an over-tight labor market has led to rapid wage growth, which in turn forces companies to raise prices. Higher prices in turn lead workers to demand higher wages, which will give us a wage-price spiral and soon lead to double-digit inflation.

While this was a story that plausibly fit the data in the 1970s, it is very hard to make the wage-price spiral fit the current situation for a simple reason: The wage share of income has fallen sharply since the pandemic. By wage share I mean total compensation to workers, including fringe benefits, not just cash wages and salaries.

Here’s the picture:

Worker Share of Net Income Decline chart Federal Bureau of Economic Analysis

As can be seen, the wage share of corporate income had been recovering gradually from the troughs it hit in 2014 following the Great Recession. However, we see a sharp reversal in 2021, with the wage share falling from 76.1 percent to 73.7 percent, a decline of 2.4 percentage points.

Perhaps some economists can tell a story where rapid wage growth is driving inflation even as the wage share of income is falling, but I’m not that good an economist. [Editor’s Note: “Good” as in dishonest.]

This still looks to me like a case where supply-side disruptions, associated with the economy reopening from the pandemic together with the war in Ukraine are driving inflation.

This view is consistent with the fact that year-over-year inflation in the European Union was 7.5 percent as of March. The EU countries did not have as big a stimulus as the United States and by most measures the EU labor market is not as tight as in the United States.

Published with permission from DC Reports. Dean Baker co-founded the Center for Economic and Policy Research in 1999. His areas of research include housing and macroeconomics, intellectual property, Social Security, Medicare and European labor markets. He is the author of several books, including "Rigged: How Globalization and the Rules of the Modern Economy Were Structured to Make the Rich Richer."