Wednesday, June 12, 2024
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Subminimum Wage Costs Employees with Disabilities – and Entire Workforce

The partisan divide continues to grow between America’s two major political parties which, consequently, makes it quite challenging for Congress to find common ground and/or reach a consensus on many (if not most) issues. However, one effort centered on eliminating a discriminatory bill dating back to 1938 appears to have bipartisan support. Newly introduced legislation aims to put an end to the subminimum wage law that makes it legal to pay people with disabilities less than minimum wage.

Many Americans are outraged that, while some states have increased compensation baselines, the federal minimum wage remains at $7.25 per hour. Perhaps some of these same individuals aren’t aware that their peers with disabilities often make less than that (shockingly less – mere cents in some cases). Subminimum wage, as it’s commonly called, is permitted under section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). And yet somehow, even though at least 61 million (or roughly 1-in-4) adults in the United States lives with a disability, this inequitable standard has remained on the books.

Man with Down syndrome, seated at desk, using a laptop and conversing with a fellow employee.
Subminimum wage means people with disabilities are unfairly compensated. (Shutterstock)

According to the latest report by the U.S. Department of Labor, 67,288 individuals were reported as earning subminimum wage under active 14(c) certificates in July 2020. The number of certificates has steadily declined in recent years; perhaps illustrating that, after a whooping eight decades, much needed momentum is finally building to combat the inequality of subminimum wage.

The Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE), a national organization focused on achieving full inclusion of people with disabilities in the workplace and community, reported that, prior to newfound efforts, thirteen states had already passed legislation to eliminate subminimum wage for people with disabilities, including Alaska, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee and Washington. Now in 2023, the state of Virginia has made headway – with HB1924. Other states are also working to introduce and/or advance subminimum wage elimination bills, such as Connecticut, Minnesota, New Hampshire and New York. Sadly, legislation recently failed in Kentucky and West Virginia.

The Cost of Subminimum Wage

Time and time again, sources tell AmeriDisability that it’s a genuine struggle for people with disabilities, especially intellectual disabilities, to land meaningful employment. Unfortunately, 81% of adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities do not have paid employment, according to research reported by Special Olympics. And some that do obtain paying jobs are lumped into the subminimum wage category.

Women, who is blind, using a computer.
People with disabilities can be excellent employees. (Shutterstock)

Yet, data shows that prioritizing diversity and inclusive in the workplace is good for business! According to the hiring platform Indeed, an inclusive workplace can result in: (1) better opportunities for creativity and problem-solving, (2) smarter decision-making, (3) an increase in profits and productivity, (4) reduced rates of employee turnover, and (5) improved reputation for your business, among other benefits.

Disability advocates and allies are encouraged to contact legislators about introducing and advancing bills that foster inclusion, including those that address subminimum wage.

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Nancy DeVault
Nancy is the managing editor of AmeriDisability. She is an award-winning storyteller passionate about health and happiness.

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