Disability Thought Of The Week: Sub-Minimum Wage Argument

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Here’s an argument on the issue of sub-minimum wage I don’t think I’ve heard …

The original rationale for legal payment of “sub-minimum” wages to certain disabled workers was that a subset of “severely” disabled people are not capable of doing work that would ordinarily be valuable enough to justify regular wages. That’s one of the most frequent arguments you hear in defense of the practice to this day.

But business DO pay market prices, (give or take), for what these workers produce in sheltered workshops and similar disabled-only enterprises. So if their collective product is good enough to sell, doesn’t that justify paying all the disabled workers who contributed to making the product or service at least Minimum Wage?

Obviously, this assumes a kind of collective earning of wages that isn’t the way we do things in the US, or in most modern economies. We pay each individual based on their individual jobs and quality of work, (in theory if not always perfectly in practice), not on how well the business as a whole performs. But then we’re already doing something different with a class of disabled people … paying them less than Minimum Wage. Why not address their supposed impairments by paying each person a proper wage for whatever work they contribute to a saleable product?

I should also note that this argument only works for people who really do want the best for disabled people, but lack the language or imagination to envision anything better than sub-minimum wage and sheltered workshops. People who positively like, support, and profit from these models because they make cheap labor legal ... are beyond persuasion.