January 23, 2024
Nate Crippes / Public Affairs Supervising Attorney
Andrew Riggle / Public Policy Advocate
(801) 363-1347 / (800) 662-9080
Subminimum wage is used by certain organizations to provide skill-building and rehabilitative services for people with disabilities. It’s based on a productivity standard, which is calculated by determining the prevailing wage for a task and then determining the rate at which an employee with a disability completes it compared to a nondisabled peer. For example, the number of newspapers one could shred, the number of objects sorted, parts put together, holes cut in tiles, etc. are all tasks frequently completed by people with disabilities making subminimum wage.
One of the problems applying a law from the 1930s to the 21st Century is many of these tasks or jobs don’t exist in today’s economy. Finding a true prevailing wage for shredding newspaper is an academic exercise rather than a meaningful comparison.
The goals of subminimum wage may have been laudable. However, there’s no time limit on how long a person can be paid subminimum wage, so it’s possible for an employee to be paid subminimum wage indefinitely, without any assurance they are building skills. As a result, many individuals with disabilities languish in segregated settings, making cents on the dollar year after year. Quite simply, this is discrimination.
HB 205 recognizes subminimum wage isn’t necessary to help people with disabilities gain work-related skills and that all Utahns are entitled to the dignity and respect of earning at least minimum wage. In fact, the Division of Services for People with Disabilities is focused on competitive and integrated employment based on a person’s interests, strengths, and skills. For those not quite there, the emphasis is on developing job readiness and independent living skills. Consequently, the US Department of Labor reports only 9 Utah employers or service providers have certificates allowing them to pay 544 employees below subminimum wage (although, this is likely somewhat of an undercount).
Nationally, there are efforts to end this discriminatory practice. In fact, legislation has passed the U.S. House of Representatives with bipartisan support, including former Rep. Chris Stewart. Many states – including New Hampshire, California, Vermont, Washington, New York, Alaska, Maryland and Rhode Island — agree the subminimum wage is outdated and have eliminated it, integrating employees with disabilities into the workforce.
Ending subminimum wage will help Utahns with disabilities of all backgrounds (most likely including our veterans with disabilities) avoid deeper poverty or gain financial stability.