Political conflict involves ideas and arguments for which the information is often murky, incomplete, interpretive, and open to manipulation. Just about everything concerning autism is subject to dispute. What is it? What causes it? How many different kinds of it are there? Who has it? What can we do about it? Is it even the right problem to be thinking about? All of these questions, and many others, are the stuff of bitter political battles. The stakes are high: according to one estimate, the national cost of supporting people with autism adds up to $236 billion per year. Of course, such numbers themselves entail controversy. An alternative perspective is that they do not represent the cost of autism, but rather the cost of discrimination against people who have it, and the failure to help them lead independent lives.
At Forbes, Andrew Pulrang discusses competing narratives of disability issues, including the subminimum wage:
Is the longstanding policy of allowing certain employers to pay some disabled workers to be paid less than Minimum Wage a necessary opening to employment opportunities for people with disablities? Or, is it an outdated and exploitative policy long overdue for repeal? Answers seem to depend on two vastly different ideas about disability and paid work.
Sub-minimum wage is better than nothing. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and some other “severe” disabilities, are paid less than minimum because they can’t realistically work in regular jobs. For these disabled people is about more than money. It’s about socialization, meaningful activity, and pride. Abolishing sub-minimum wage will only make them lose the jobs they have, making them worse off than before.
Sub-minimum wage is fundamentally wrong. If it ever was justified, sub-minimum wage is long overdue to be abolished. Anyone who works for pay, committing their time and effort to do so, should be paid at least Minimum Wage. Disabled people experience enough poverty as it is, and the humiliation of being paid under Minimum Wage erases much of the purported pride they get from working. Plus, with the right support, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are often a lot more capable in the workplace than even their families and closest allies are able to imagine.
The main reasons this issue isn’t already resolved are an understandable fear of change, a failure of imagination, and in some cases, the greed of employers who just want to preserve this source of cheap labor. Out of all the current disability issues, this may be the one closest to being solved. Presidential candidates Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren are all in favor of ending Sub-minimum wage, and some states have already done so successfully.