Last week, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced a proposal to eliminate the city’s use of special certificates that allow companies to pay wages below the city’s $15 minimum wage. A city council vote is expected before the end of this year.
Who is affected by these certificates? Murray answers: “The point of our historic $15 minimum wage law was to build universal equality in Seattle. A loophole allowing subminimum wages for disabled workers has undermined that goal.”
In the name of social justice, Seattle plans to make workers with disabilities unemployable. Although many will be forced out of work they voluntarily engaged in, workers with disabilities should apparently feel good about how “equal” they will be to the larger public. Proponents of eliminating wage certificates believe they are doing a social good by forcing up the wages of persons with disabilities, but the result will be the opposite: the aggregate wages that persons with disabilities earn will decline as businesses are forced to lay off these workers or cut their hours.
For the supposedly pro-science political left, refusing to recognize that persons with disabilities are already unequal is a refusal to accept reality. Persons with disabilities lead much more difficult lives than most of the rest of us, and attempting to legislate them into wage equality will only make life more difficult. After all, if an able-bodied person struggles to compete in the market for a $15 minimum wage, how will a person with a disability compete?
Employment is already difficult to find for persons with disabilities. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported recently that in 2016, approximately 18 percent of persons with a disability were employed. While many persons with disabilities simply cannot be accommodated at a place of employment, those who can should be afforded the dignity of being able to compete for those jobs. According to the same report, 34 percent of persons with a disability who are employed work part time. These are the jobs that will be lost if Seattle forces companies to pay higher wages to the adaptive population.
Publix, a supermarket chain in the southeast United States, does an excellent job of accommodating and employing persons with disabilities. The persons with disabilities they employ aren’t looking for a “living wage” or livable income—they want a place to engage in meaningful work, build relationships, and achieve a more normal life for themselves.
In fact, many workers with disabilities are paid less than the national minimum wage, since the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) allows for the accommodation of subminimum wages. Far from a “loophole,” all 50 U.S. states also have wage certificates for persons with disabilities or defer to the FLSA certificates, including the state of Washington.
Companies like Publix could find able-bodied workers to fill their positions, but this would erase the societal benefits of them accommodating workers with disabilities. Employees with disabilities get a chance to make an impact in the world and build relationships while receiving a supplement to their family’s income. The rest of us get to interact with people who may be different from us, potentially raising awareness about certain disabilities and hopefully eliminating negative stereotypes that sometimes exist.
Rather than punishing persons with disabilities who are determined enough to gain employment or pretending they are exactly the same as everyone else, we should be celebrating them and the businesses that accommodate these valuable members of our society.