How much money is your leg worth? How about your ear or your ring finger? Most people would say these vital body parts are invaluable. But state legislatures have to assign monetary value to individual body parts when determining worker compensation benefits. And as an incredibly detailed interactive infographic over at ProPublica reveals, individual states disagree wildly on how much limbs are worth, and these values are often assigned arbitrarily.
Designed in-house by Lena Groeger and Michael Grabell, the visualization represents states as diagrams of the human body divided up like Angus beef charts. Scrolling over individual parts, from fingers to arms to ears to testicles, reveals the maximum amount each state will compensate workers for the loss of these parts, and compares each to the national average.
The graphic illustrates the absurd arbitrariness of each state’s worker compensation benefits: If you lose an arm while working in Alabama, the stingiest state when it comes to workers’ comp, you’re screwed–you get only $48,840. But if you lose an arm in Nevada, the most generous state, you win the worker compensation lottery–you can collect up to $859,634.
Why isn’t an arm just an arm? There are no federal minimums for benefits–Congress lets each state decide how much limbs are worth. As Grabell writes in an accompanying article in ProPublica:
Given their profound impact on people’s lives, how much compensation workers get for traumatic injuries seems like it would be the product of years of study, combining medical wisdom and economic analysis. But in reality, the amounts are often the result of political expediency, sometimes based on bargains struck decades ago.
States have been slashing workers’ comp in the past decade, and currently rates are at the lowest since the 1970s. For workers in states like Alabama, losing a limb isn’t just a devastating personal trauma–it can also lead to total financial ruin, as in the case of 27-year-old Jeremy Lewis, who lost his arm while working in an industrial plant.