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At NCCI’s Annual Issues Symposium this past May, we had the unhappy duty to tell some 700 industry executives and managers that, in our view, the workers’ compensation market was in a precarious position. Unfortunately, the intervening months have done little to improve our outlook regarding the state of the industry.

By contrast, the overall property and casualty insurance industry has had a relatively quiet year. Underwriting losses have moderated. Catastrophes have been manageable, with few major hurricanes hitting the United States. And the stock market began to recover to some extent.

Unfortunately, the workers’ comp industry had a more trying year. After very minor underwriting losses in 2007 and 2008, the combined ratio for workers’ comp shot up nine points in 2009–the largest single year increase since the mid-1980s. Workers’ comp was one of only two of the major lines (along with general liability) that had an increase in combined ratio last year.

Deteriorating underwriting results, combined with the record-low interest rate environment, left workers’ comp at only slightly better than breakeven after investment income is considered.

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