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Should It Be Legal to Pay Disabled Workers Subminimum Wages?

Lawren Barber-Wood. December 9, 2016.

I. Section 14© and Who It Affects

In America, the current minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Most states, though, have higher minimum wages, like Alaska, where the minimum wage is $9.75 an hour. Most American workers are paid whichever wage is higher where they live, but there are some exceptions; minors, waitstaff, and disabled workers can all legally be paid below minimum wage. Minors can only be paid below minimum wage for ninety days, though, and waitstaff can only be paid subminimum wages if they’re tipped. Even then, there are limitations on this; “if an employee’s tips plus cash wages do not add up to at least minimum wage… the employer is required to [pay enough to] make the employee whole” (Simpson).  In regards to disabled workers, on the other hand, there is no limit to how low they can be paid or for how long they can be paid these low wages. This is because of a seventy-five year old addition to the Fair Labor Standards Act, or FLSA, called Section 14©.

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The Price of the Wage Gap

In the United States it is completely legal to pay disabled workers sub-minimum wages. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) allows employers to decide their employee’s wage according to their abilities and have no bottom limit on thier wage.

Wages under FLSA are below the minimum wage with most paying half the minimum wage. Many employers pay only ten percent of the minimum or less.

Disabled workers who find mainstream jobs are still paid only 64%-86% as much as other workers. This results in an annual $23,000 loss, enough to buy 25 Macbooks.

Today in labor history, October 13, 2015: Home care workers are finally getting protections they should have had years ago. After a U.S. Court of Appeals unanimously upheld a Department of Labor Home Care Final Rule to extend minimum wage and overtime protections to almost 2 million home care workers, the ruling is effective as of today, October 13, 2015.