Employment September 8, 2021
Minnesota moves to close the pay gap for disabled people
The state of Minnesota is the latest to end the practice of paying disabled workers a subminimum wage. More than 40 states in the United States have joined the Employment First” legislation, which aims to end discrimination against people with disabilities.
Even after the Americans with Disabilities Act, a major turning point in opening large portions of US society to disabled persons, disabled people are still experiencing higher unemployment rates.
COVID-19 has made this situation worse. Nearly one million disabled people have lost their jobs since the World Health Organization declared a pandemic last March. The US Bureau of Labour Statistics reports that one in five workers with disabilities has been dismissed from service, compared to one in seven in the general population.
Disability pay gaps persist
Even though the ADA prevents discrimination in employment and pay, there is a rarely known loophole that allows employers who possess a special certificate to pay disabled workers less than the federal minimum wage rather than a fixed hourly wage. They can even pay disabled workers based on their productivity or at a rate per piece. In theory, these employers should transition workers with disabilities into the mainstream workforce, but this does not always happen. An American report to Congress from 2001 states that fewer than 5% of workers with disabilities ever find outside employment.
The subminimum wage is set to disappear under Joe Biden‘s presidency. He has promised to phase it out over six years and integrate disabled workers into the community. So far, over 40 states have signed up, the latest being Minnesota. Over 8,000 disabled people in sheltered workshops will be impacted by the move.
Unequal pay regime ends
In July, the state legislature closed a legal loophole that made it impossible for people with disabilities to earn fair and competitive wages. Additionally, it allocated $14 million for disability service providers like Inclusive Networking that match job seekers with disabilities with real jobs.
We were fortunate to be the recipients of a two-year grant from the Minnesota Department of Human Services that support new and innovative ideas to help people with disabilities gain meaningful and competitive employment. Our grant project will partner with two Fortune 500 companies each year to train and implement customized employment practices and support the companies efforts to customize employment for five individuals with disabilities. The grant project will also provide ongoing support, training, and collaboration with companies on how to bring awareness to their disability inclusion initiatives. – Nicole Rabinowitz, Founder, Inclusive Networking
Since 2019, Inclusive Networking has been assisting disabled job seekers in finding inclusive employment. “I wanted to help people with disabilities find a career that met their interests and skills and I wanted to assist businesses to grow their workforce to include more disabled employees,” says Rabinowitz.
The practice of paying subminimum wages began in the Great Depression as a way to give people with disabilities a chance to learn job skills. In recent years it has come to be seen as exploitative and a violation of civil rights under the ADA. Many disabled people spend years in sheltered workshops isolated from the general population with no hopes of progress. Many have described the work conditions there as dehumanizing.
There are larger challenges ahead. Minnesota has one of the lowest rates of integrated employment in the US for people with developmental disabilities. A 2020 state survey found that only 57% of developmentally disabled adults had a job with an income. The policy change will hopefully end this discrimination.
“It will also give more people opportunities to find work where they are truly working in an integrated business with people with and without disabilities”, says Rabinowitz. “We also hope that within the business community, our partnerships will lead to heightened innovation, an increase in the customers as well as greater workplace productivity and reduced employee turnover”.