Defeat of Minimum Wage Increase Leaves People with Disabilities Behind

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

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 Biden’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, “disabled people can be legally paid pennies per hour.”

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

A concern for subminimum wages is most obvious in so-called “sheltered workshops” where workers with disabilities undertake repetitive tasks—such as wrapping popsicle sticks or screwing the tops onto shampoo bottles—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 “given up on a straightforward $15 minimum-wage hike” 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 “leave the disability community behind” due to increasingly partisan politics in Congress.

Source: Sara Luterman, “Minimum Wage Misfire Also Harms Disabled People,” American Prospect, March 2, 2021,

Student Researcher: Grace Joyce (Indian River State College)

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