Is Exempting The Disabled From The Minimum Wage A Good Idea?

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Lawmakers in St. Louis, Mo. are considering a bill to exempt disabled people from an upcoming minimum wage increase. While some say it’s unfair, others argue its to make sure certain charities stay afloat.

The exemption will soon be debated by the city Board of Aldermen. It successfully passed through committee Thursday with a 4 to 1 vote. The move to include an exemption is to help sheltered workshops, which employ disabled people as a form of charity.

The current law, passed in August, will increase the minimum wage across the city to $11 an hour by 2018. It did not include an exemption for disabled workers.

“Sheltered workshops have been providing services to developmentally disabled people in St. Louis and Missouri for a long time,” Democratic Alderman Scott Ogilvie, who sponsored the exemption, said during a hearing according to St. Louis Public Radio. “Within the minimum wage bill, part of that bill would have made it very difficult for them to continue operating.”

“It could jeopardize the employment of almost 400 people with disabilities in St. Louis,” Ogilvie continued. “Who are employed in the four sheltered workshops.”

The exemption is facing significant opposition, with pending challenges in court along with public backlash. Critics are arguing the exemption is simply not fair. Even some within the business community have moved to oppose the exemption.

“I’m shocked with the decision,” Paraquad CEO Aimee Wehmeier said, according to the local CBS affiliate. “I want everybody, regardless of disability, to make a minimum wage.”

For Theresa Jordan, who has cerebral palsy, she doesn’t want the workshop where she works to close. She argues it’s too much of a struggle to make ends meet with her current wage. Jordan makes only $3.65 an hour plus disability funds from Social Security.

“I don’t want to see it close,” Jordan said according to St. Louis Public Radio. “All I want to do is make them [pay] minimum wage, be able to make a living for me and my daughter. And just make money like the rest of the people out here. Other than that, it’s not easy bringing home what I bring home and try to make ends meet.”

Though there is significant debate on the subject, it is generally agreed minimum wage increases have the potential to adversely impact employment. Even the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) agrees any increase of the minimum wage will likely result in at least some job loss. Supporters often argue positive outcomes outweigh the negative.

When the Los Angeles City Council passed a proposal in May to raise its minimum wage to $15 by 2020, nonprofits were some of the first businesses reporting problems. Additionally, the Employment Policies Institute launched a campaign earlier this month to draw attention to the problem of charitable organizations having to close or cut workers to adjust for the extra cost of labor.

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