19 votes

Workers With Disabilities Are Making Cents Per Hour — and It’s Legal

17 comments

  1. [6]
    sublime_aenima Link
    I have a cousin who works under this program. When he visited me a couple weeks ago, we were talking about this. I was appalled to learn he was working 30-40 hours per week breaking down and...

    I have a cousin who works under this program. When he visited me a couple weeks ago, we were talking about this. I was appalled to learn he was working 30-40 hours per week breaking down and stacking cardboard boxes and yet only making a couple bucks an hour. He works as fast as any person without handicap and would gladly skip lunch and breaks if his boss asked him to. His and his mom defended the program by saying how important it was for him to have a real job, and that he received tons of supplemental income and insurance from the federal government in lieu of a fair wage. Ideally, he would receive a fair wage, with insurance and not need the federal subsistence. Q

    10 votes
    1. [5]
      Greg Link Parent
      Perhaps a foolish question, but is that government money contingent on him keeping the below minimum wage job? Because if it isn't, it seems like he's in a de facto UBI situation where he could...

      His and his mom defended the program by saying how important it was for him to have a real job, and that he received tons of supplemental income and insurance from the federal government in lieu of a fair wage.

      Perhaps a foolish question, but is that government money contingent on him keeping the below minimum wage job? Because if it isn't, it seems like he's in a de facto UBI situation where he could find something a whole lot more interesting & fulfilling to do with his days than stacking boxes without worrying unduly about the lost box stacking income. Unless he finds stacking boxes entirely fulfilling, I guess; I'm certainly projecting my own attitudes on work a little here.

      5 votes
      1. [4]
        sublime_aenima Link Parent
        The money comes as long as he doesn't make too much money. He receives SSI which is to pay for food and housing, which goes directly to his mom and stepdad with whom he lives. He is also enrolled...

        The money comes as long as he doesn't make too much money. He receives SSI which is to pay for food and housing, which goes directly to his mom and stepdad with whom he lives. He is also enrolled in a program that tries to teach him how to live independently (but the reality is that if he outlives his mom and stepdad, he's likely moving in with a sister). This involves classes at a community college and eventually got him into the workforce. At one point he was making minimum wage stocking shelves in a grocery store, but he lost that job after a few too many incidents. At one point he was working in a warehouse moving boxes and crates all day. I think the only job he's actually been proud of and enjoyed was when he was mowing lawns for some neighbors. If it was up to him, he would be playing basketball all day long.

        3 votes
        1. [3]
          Greg Link Parent
          That's really interesting - I guess the problems with the grocery store job do suggest there is some kind of incentive needed for a business to employ him, although not necessarily that the...

          That's really interesting - I guess the problems with the grocery store job do suggest there is some kind of incentive needed for a business to employ him, although not necessarily that the current structure is the right way to do so.

          Again, I'm definitely looking at it from my own perspective, but since living costs are covered either way I'd be marching straight out of the current job, spending my mornings going round the neighbourhood making sure everyone's garden was pristine and something to be proud of, and then enjoying an afternoon of basketball.

          3 votes
          1. sublime_aenima Link Parent
            It's definitely not enough for him to live alone, but it definitely does help. I think the school aspect is what my cousin really enjoys. That's where they help him learn to ride a bus, go on fake...

            It's definitely not enough for him to live alone, but it definitely does help. I think the school aspect is what my cousin really enjoys. That's where they help him learn to ride a bus, go on fake dates (which turn into real ones) and include a tip in the bill, among other social interactions. The reality is that he needs someone keeping an eye on him, and making sure he's not going to get lost.

            2 votes
          2. stu2b50 Link Parent
            Remember, many of these positions are people who have, for example, severe learning disabilities. Not really in the position to have that kind of active outlook and motive. For the people who...

            spending my mornings going round the neighbourhood making sure everyone's garden was pristine and something to be proud of, and then enjoying an afternoon of basketball.

            Remember, many of these positions are people who have, for example, severe learning disabilities. Not really in the position to have that kind of active outlook and motive. For the people who would do that, these jobs certainly aren't for them.

            1 vote
  2. [6]
    eladnarra Link
    This is a great overview of this issue, thanks for posting! It covers a lot of ground, and I'm going to keep it handy for the next discussion I have about the subminimum wage. One aspect that I...

    This is a great overview of this issue, thanks for posting! It covers a lot of ground, and I'm going to keep it handy for the next discussion I have about the subminimum wage.

    One aspect that I didn't see mentioned was that relatively often parents of disabled adults are actually in favor of sheltered workshops. It seems counterintuitive that they'd support a system where corporations take advantage of their children, but I've heard a few of their arguments (which hopefully I'm remembering correctly):

    1. "Jobs like these give my child something meaningful to do during the day. If companies had to pay a full wage, they wouldn't hire people like my child."
    2. "If my child made more money, they'd lose their SSI/Medicare."

    I think the first argument falls into the trap of valuing paid work over other experiences - surely developmentally/intellectually disabled adults could find enjoyment and social interaction in other contexts that don't exploit them, if we as a society made them available.

    And while it's true that some people (disabled or not) do find meaning in paid work, the fact that CEOS can make such salaries indicates that the disabled employees could (and should) be paid more.

    As for the second argument, it is true that people on SSI have limits to what they can earn/save. The solution there is to raise those limits — currently people on SSI get less than the federal poverty level per year in benefits and can't save more than $2000 (unless they have an ABLE account, which has limitations).

    6 votes
    1. [5]
      stu2b50 Link Parent
      I'm not really sure that logic works out. Could companies pay them and not go bankrupt? Of course. Most companies could set fire to a literal pile of money every day. You can even see it in other...

      And while it's true that some people (disabled or not) do find meaning in paid work, the fact that CEOS can make such salaries indicates that the disabled employees could (and should) be paid more.

      I'm not really sure that logic works out. Could companies pay them and not go bankrupt? Of course. Most companies could set fire to a literal pile of money every day.

      You can even see it in other anecdotes here. Many of the jobs do not exactly produce significant value to the business. It's often stuff like stacking boxes, collecting letters, organizing papers. Stuff that could be automated, or just handled by a full time employee on the side.

      And, in the end, large companies are going to optimize for profit, and mom and pop shops are the least able to throw away money like that.

      One avenue that could help this is tax breaks or subsidies for companies to take in disabled, but in America that seems unlikely to pass.

      2 votes
      1. [4]
        eladnarra Link Parent
        It all comes down to whether one considers simply having a job, however menial or unimportant to the employer, is worth getting paid less than $1/hour. I don't think that having a job is...

        You can even see it in other anecdotes here. Many of the jobs do not exactly produce significant value to the business. It's often stuff like stacking boxes, collecting letters, organizing papers. Stuff that could be automated, or just handled by a full time employee on the side.

        It all comes down to whether one considers simply having a job, however menial or unimportant to the employer, is worth getting paid less than $1/hour. I don't think that having a job is inherently better than not having one when the job itself is exploitative. Pay disabled people enough so that they can actually use that money for things that matter in their lives, or make sure they're getting enough benefits from the government. (Or ideally, both.)

        One avenue that could help this is tax breaks or subsidies for companies to take in disabled, but in America that seems unlikely to pass.

        There are already some. Or did you have something different in mind?

        2 votes
        1. [3]
          stu2b50 Link Parent
          Surely the option of having a job, and something to do, is better than not having the option at all. At least that's what I think. Your opportunities shouldn't decrease by having more options than...

          I don't think that having a job is inherently better than not having one when the job itself is exploitative.

          Surely the option of having a job, and something to do, is better than not having the option at all. At least that's what I think. Your opportunities shouldn't decrease by having more options than before.

          Certainly some people with disabilities, which is a pretty broad category, can perform with sometimes no issue at all, and they naturally deserve a better salary. But, many of these reduced salary positions are, for example, for people with severe learning disabilities.

          I suppose volunteer work would also fullfill the role of something to do, but I don't see it being an either or case.

          Pay disabled people enough so that they can actually use that money for things that matter in their lives, or make sure they're getting enough benefits from the government.

          Why does it have to be an or? You can give disability benefits, and have the exception for minimum wage so that IF they want to have some kind of career, they can. It's not a matter of survival (in these cases it's often not).

          Or did you have something different in mind?

          More severe ones. Like, a subsidy that would pay for the remaining minimum wage, so the company can contribute say, half, of the wage. Or something like university work study programs.

          2 votes
          1. [2]
            eladnarra Link Parent
            Yeah, I get what you're saying - I just think it's morally wrong to say "because this person is disabled and not as fast as X job, we're going to pay them less than the minimum wage that abled...

            Yeah, I get what you're saying - I just think it's morally wrong to say "because this person is disabled and not as fast as X job, we're going to pay them less than the minimum wage that abled people must be paid." Either it's a minimum wage, or it isn't. Subminimum wage devalues the time that disabled people put into these jobs, portrays their contributions to society as lesser, and also brings down everyone else's wages. The benefits from working can be found elsewhere, in ways that don't benefit corporations (and CEOS making $700,000 a year) at the expense of disabled people.

            On a personal note, I can only work part time because of a disability. (And I don't qualify for benefits.) I don't think this makes me inherently unworthy of a living wage, but I'm unable to make enough to support myself because in our current system part time hours = part time pay = less than what someone would make in a full-time job at minimum wage. I recognize that the nature of my disability puts me in a different situation than folks with developmental/intellectual disabilities, and I know some disabled people like these programs, but I formed these opinions based on the advocacy of disabled activists (and a little of my own experiences). I support a system that values people's work and also ensures everyone has enough to live comfortably, whether capable of work or not. It's a pipe dream, sure, but a good start would be making sure folks currently making subminimum wages (prisoners, disabled people, etc) are no longer being exploited, and increasing SSI so people aren't stuck in poverty.

            3 votes
            1. stu2b50 Link Parent
              I think in a case like yours, certainly it wouldn't be right to pay less than minimum wage. But many of these jobs it's not a case where a disabled employee performs marginally worse than a...

              I think in a case like yours, certainly it wouldn't be right to pay less than minimum wage. But many of these jobs it's not a case where a disabled employee performs marginally worse than a supposed "healthy" employee, it's token jobs which would just not exist that these exceptions enable to exist, and allow certain people with disabilities to gain some sense of normalcy. These are jobs that just wouldn't exist normally. A company is just not going to pay minimum wage for someone to open envelopes.

              Certainly cases where it is abused, and people who are actually trying to subsist on their wage are payed below minimum wage should not be allowed. But I think that's more a case of stricter regulation as to whom companies can give lower than minimum wages to.

              It's not really fair to the people who do benefit from the feeling of normalcy these exceptions can give for it to be taken away.

              3 votes
  3. [2]
    jgb Link
    I'm sure in many cases this is unfair - but there does need to be provision in law for people whose disabilities mean they are never going to be able to compete on a level playing field against...

    I'm sure in many cases this is unfair - but there does need to be provision in law for people whose disabilities mean they are never going to be able to compete on a level playing field against the fully able in the jobs market. To those who think this law is wrong - what would you propose instead?

    (And if your answer to that is UBI + abolition of minimum wage - I'd agree with you - but I can't see it happening anytime soon)

    4 votes
    1. eladnarra Link Parent
      I think that companies should pay at least minimum wage, whatever the productivity level of the disabled person. (If companies still need incentives from the government, that aspect is possible to...

      I think that companies should pay at least minimum wage, whatever the productivity level of the disabled person. (If companies still need incentives from the government, that aspect is possible to continue without exploitation.)

      People's productivity varies. When you're getting over a cold you might be a bit slower at your job, but your employer can't decide to pay you less than minimum wage for that day. Disabled people's time spent at work is just as valuable, and as seen in @sublime_aenima's
      comment, the system for determining productivity is often broken anyway.

      6 votes
  4. [3]
    Octofox Link
    If disabled people are getting paid by the government then I see no problem with this. The actual pay is less important than giving these people meaningful work to do. A lot of the jobs they are...

    If disabled people are getting paid by the government then I see no problem with this. The actual pay is less important than giving these people meaningful work to do. A lot of the jobs they are doing wouldn't even exist if they had to pay a minimum wage.

    1 vote
    1. [2]
      Greg Link Parent
      I pretty much agree with you, but I feel there's a bit more under the surface that matters when it comes to the implementation. That's a big "if". Specifically, there doesn't seem to be any cross...

      I pretty much agree with you, but I feel there's a bit more under the surface that matters when it comes to the implementation.

      If disabled people are getting paid by the government then I see no problem with this.

      That's a big "if". Specifically, there doesn't seem to be any cross check to ensure that this is the case - although it does sound like in practice it's true most of the time.

      If that's the road we're going down, then we're agreeing it's a government subsidy to the businesses, and as a few others have suggested it would likely make more sense to keep the standard minimum wage and offset the cost difference with tax credits. Same outcome, but more transparent and traceable than having one agency hand $X directly to the employee, while the business self-defines that they are taking $Y off their hourly wage with no reconciliation between the two.

      The actual pay is less important than giving these people meaningful work to do. A lot of the jobs they are doing wouldn't even exist if they had to pay a minimum wage.

      This all spins on the word "meaningful". I touched on it further up the thread, but it seems like if the government has already committed to paying for living costs, there's a huge opportunity to offer work that's genuinely helpful to the community, rather than menial work that would be automated if there weren't $1/hour staff to do it.

      2 votes
      1. Octofox Link Parent
        In my state there is an organisation that works pretty much how you describe. From their website They do a range of things including gardening, recycling and event things such as free gift...

        In my state there is an organisation that works pretty much how you describe.

        From their website

        Through supported employment, you can:
        Earn a wage
        Learn new skills
        Make friends
        Build your confidence
        Build your status within the community
        Be part of a team
        Discover training opportunities
        Work in a positive environment.

        They do a range of things including gardening, recycling and event things such as free gift wrapping in shopping centers. They offer some of the "menial" jobs but I would think some people might actually like to do something like that part time. In any case they chose to do these jobs and can sit at home and collect government money if they wanted to.

        1 vote