Because of the continuing government shutdown, many entitlement programs are being looked at for cuts. The one that can lease afford those cuts, in part because it makes substantial return for the investment is the Federal-State Vocational Rehabilitation Program. In order to understand it better it is important to get a historical perspective.
The early part of the 20th century fostered a shift in the labor market that led to many changes within the economy and thereby affected society as a whole. At the center of transformation were three driving forces, industrialization and urbanization, warfare, and increasing medical technology improving survival rates from significant injury (Moore, 2006).
The era began with the post Civil War industrialization. New industries appeared as new technologies were developing, creating manufacturing plants in urban settings. In turn, an increasing need for workers developed in cities. Rural youths seeking to better their lives moved in increasingly large numbers to cities, but lacked needed skills. Manufacturing jobs of the era were fraught with hazards and there were no safety standards. The results of unskilled workers and mechanization were increasing numbers of individuals sustaining on the job injuries. (Rose 2012)
Facing this backdrop, President Theodore Roosevelt signed the first workers’ compensation law in 1908. The law was narrow in scope and restricted to individuals who were employed in hazardous federal government jobs. It was, however, the first act of its type to stand scrutiny by the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1916, the Federal Employees Compensation Act was passed to extend workers’ compensation to all federal employees. (Fowler, 2013)
The U.S. was a formal participant in World War I was relatively brief compared to other countries, but it created an increased need for the manufacture of munitions and skilled workers because of men enlisting in the military. These forces led to two acts that would change both work and higher education greatly in succeeding years: the Soldiers Rehabilitation Act of 1918 and the Civilian Rehabilitation Act of 1920. These acts introduced a new concept, vocational rehabilitation. Vocational rehabilitation provided not just money to live on, but for training so that an injured veteran or civilian might gain a new skill. An individual employed as a construction laborer before the war might gain new skills as a drafter. This set the stage in a need for programs at the community level that provided marketable skills and aided not only in providing monies for community colleges and vocational training schools, but also for universities through retraining benefits for the disabled. (Congress, 1934).
Vocational rehabilitation has been refined and altered over the years but the principle behind it remains the same, to take people who have a significant disability and put them to work. Estimates on the amount of return for the government investment range from three to one to ten to one. In any case, the changes in the ability of the individual to be productive in society and the need for continued development of skilled workers in our economy is crucial to the further development of workers.
Congress and Public Education 1784 - 1929. Congressional Digest. 1934, Vol. 13 Issue 2, p34-64.
Fifty years of vocational rehabilitation in the U.S.A. 1920-1970. (1970). Rehabilitation Services Administration, Social and Rehabilitative Service, U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare: Washington, DC.
Fowler, Russell. (2013) The Deep Roots of Workers' Comp. (cover story). Tennessee Bar Journal. Vol. 49 Issue 6, p10-16.
Rose, Sarah F. (2012). The Right to a College Education