A sheltered workshop worker takes a momentary break from repackaging plastic sprayers to talk together with her mom. (Tammy Ljungblad/The Kansas Metropolis Star/TNS)

Amid an ongoing push to finish a decades-old observe permitting employees with disabilities to be paid lower than minimal wage, a brand new federal investigation finds that such employment has dropped by greater than half.

Between 2010 and 2019, the variety of individuals with disabilities nationwide incomes what’s often known as subminimum wage fell from 296,000 to 122,000, based on a report out this month from the Authorities Accountability Workplace.

On the similar time, employer participation in this system declined from 3,117 to 1,567, the report discovered. And, that quantity continues to lower, with fewer than 1,300 employers approved as of August 2021.

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Underneath a regulation relationship again to the Nineteen Thirties, employers can receive particular 14(c) certificates from the U.S. Division of Labor authorizing them to rent individuals with disabilities at lower than the federal minimal wage of $7.25 per hour.

However momentum lately has shifted towards aggressive built-in employment and away from subminimum wage with adjustments to federal regulation and an growing variety of cities and states banning the observe.

Notably, Congress enacted strict limits on subminimum wage employment in 2014 with the Workforce Innovation and Alternative Act. Underneath that regulation, people with disabilities age 24 or youthful can’t work for subminimum wage with out first displaying that they’ve obtained transition companies, pursued employment by means of vocational rehabilitation and that they’ve been offered info and referrals to different choices of their space. What’s extra, these being paid lower than minimal wage should obtain profession counseling and details about coaching alternatives as soon as each six months in the course of the first yr and yearly after that.

For the most recent report, GAO investigators reviewed knowledge on subminimum wage employment, surveyed 14(c) employers from throughout the nation and interviewed different stakeholders.

They discovered that just about all employees employed below 14(c) certificates had mental and developmental disabilities. Most have been white and between the ages of 25 and 54 and the bulk earned lower than $3.50 per hour.

Whereas the Labor Division is charged with guaranteeing that employers with 14(c) certificates precisely calculate employees’ wages, GAO discovered that the method for conducting this oversight is commonly delayed, in some circumstances by so long as two years.

“Emphasizing the significance of aggressive employment has change into a nationwide public coverage precedence for incapacity employment,” GAO investigators concluded. “On the similar time, tens of 1000’s of people with disabilities are employed within the 14(c) program and paid subminimum wages. (The Division of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division) has a accountability to supervise this system and employers’ compliance with relevant legal guidelines and laws.”

GAO recommends that the Labor Division set up timeliness targets for processing 14(c) purposes, amongst different steps.

“Paying employees lower than the minimal wage is unacceptable. Everybody deserves to be paid a good wage, and People with disabilities aren’t any exception,” mentioned Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., one of many lawmakers who requested GAO to analyze. “The report exhibits that we nonetheless have way more to do to carry up individuals with disabilities by elevating their wages and creating aggressive jobs in workplaces that make use of each employees with and with out disabilities.”

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