by Vilissa K. Thompson, LMSW
Recently, President Obama signed an executive order to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for federal contract workers. This action will benefit individuals who are contracted with the federal government who are making less than this newly approved rate. (The current minimum wage rate is $7.25 an hour.) The minimum wage hike for federal workers will become effective on January 1st, 2015. Raising the minimum wage coincides with the President’s plans to increase opportunities for the American people.
When the President announced his executive order concerning the minimum wage increase during his State of the Union Address last month, there were one particular group who were left out of his initiative – federal workers with disabilities. The White House and the Department of Labor did not intend to allow people with disabilities working under federal contracts with special certificates to receive the new minimum wage increase. The failure to include people with disabilities who work for the federal government was met with great opposition, and those within the disability community advocated for federal workers with disabilities to be included in the President’s order.
Under the current law, federal workers with disabilities may be paid less than the $7.25/hour rate under specialized certificate programs. This means that it is legal to pay federal workers with disabilities incredibly less than their able-bodied colleagues, even though they are doing the same job. The current provision creates a disproportionate living wage gap between disabled and able-bodied federal contracted workers. Without the inclusion of people with disabilities in the President’s order, certain disabled workers would have continued to earn a living wage as little as 22 cents an hour.
With the unemployment rate for people with disabilities being 13.3%, and the labor force participation rate being 18.2% for January 2014, it is imperative for the employability of people with disabilities to be on the consciousness of the President, and our representatives. Despite being the largest minority group in the country, people with disabilities are not fully integrated within our workforce system, even though there are a great number of programs and services in place to increase employment opportunities for this population. This “oversight” by the White House and the Labor Department before disability advocates ramped their voices signaled how dire it is for people with disabilities to be politically aware, and involved.
This executive order is a steppingstone in the right direction to increase the minimum wage for all Americans, but what can be done to ensure that people with disabilities are not overlooked or dismissed when future plans are constructed to improve the well-being and economic status of those in this country? How can we better advocate for ourselves, and demand that those with influence take our needs and concerns seriously? Share your thoughts and suggestions with me because excluding people with disabilities from momentous initiatives such as this can no longer suffice.
(Featured headlining image: Courtesy of Black Enterprise.)