Defeat of Minimum Wage Increase Leaves People with Disabilities Behind

by Vins

As was widely reported by news outlets (including CNN, CBS, NPR, among others) in February 2021, a popular $15 minimum-wage hike was struck from President Bidenā€™s COVID relief package when the Senate parliamentarian decided it was impermissible under the complicated rules that govern Senate budget bills. Biden had proposed to gradually increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 as part of his COVID relief package. Missing from the news coverage of this story was how the decision also prevented the abolition of subminimum wages for people with disabilities, as Sara Luterman reported for the American Prospect.

As Luterman wrote, under a regulation in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, ā€œdisabled people can be legally paid pennies per hour.ā€

Disability, Luterman reported, is ā€œan issue that cuts across class and political affiliation,ā€ and, historically, abolition of the subminimum wage for workers with disabilities ā€œhas been a quietly bipartisan issue.ā€ However, in the past few months, However, ā€œthe subminimum wage, like every other issue, has become more polarized and partisan,ā€ Luterman wrote.

A concern for subminimum wages is most obvious in so-called ā€œsheltered workshopsā€ where workers with disabilities undertake repetitive tasksā€”such as wrapping popsicle sticks or screwing the tops onto shampoo bottlesā€”and are paid per piece produced.

Multiple states either have banned subminimum wages for workers with disabilities or are in the process of doing so, Luterman reported.

While it appears that the Senate has ā€œgiven up on a straightforward $15 minimum-wage hikeā€ as a COVID relief measure, Luterman wrote, it is likely that any alternative minimum-wage increase proposals that could come up for a vote later in 2021 will ā€œleave the disability community behindā€ due to increasingly partisan politics in Congress.

Source: Sara Luterman, ā€œMinimum Wage Misfire Also Harms Disabled People,ā€ American Prospect, March 2, 2021,

Student Researcher: Grace Joyce (Indian River State College)

Faculty Researcher: Elliot D Cohen (Indian River State College)