Trey Lockwood works at an ice cream shop in Kansas City, Kansas. He greets customers and makes ice cream. Despite having autism, he earns more than minimum wage. He works three part-time jobs, bringing home enough to buy clothes and other essentials.
“I feel good about that,” he says.
But a new tax proposal in Kansas might make employment less profitable for disabled workers.
The state of Kansas proposed changes to a tax incentive for companies who employ disabled workers. Some officials want to expand the tax credit, doubling the amount to $10 million annually. That sounds beneficial. But tax laws get complicated. Basically, if you hire disabled workers in Kansas, you can save money on your taxes. Soon, you could save even more. This would surely help create more jobs for disabled people—right?
There’s just one problem. Currently, if Kansas companies want to receive this credit, they must pay disabled employees at least minimum wage. Under the new rules, employers could pay some disabled employees less than minimum wage—and still receive the credit. Companies might hire more disabled people, but pay them less than the abled.
In the United States, the current federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. But since the 1930s, federal law has allowed employers to pay disabled workers less than minimum wage. Lawmakers assumed that disabled workers would be less productive than other employees. By paying them less, employers could make up for the lost productivity.
But according to advocates for the disabled, this reflects an outdated and harmful attitude. It comes from a time when society failed to value disabled people, often putting them in institutions. A January report to Congress revealed that, of disabled workers earning below minimum wage, 51% make less than $3.50 per hour. Some make as little at 25 cents hourly.
Thirteen states have banned below-minimum-wage jobs for disabled workers. Virginia might soon do the same. What will Kansas do?
Some say the tax credit expansion would actually benefit disabled workers. They argue fewer businesses will hire disabled workers if forced to pay them at least minimum wage. But others, like Connecticut state representative Jane Garibay, see things differently. She says fair pay is “part of being valued as a human being.”
God created all people in His image. Sometimes, lawmakers fail to figure out the best way to reflect that truth. But we can always choose to treat others with the value they deserve as image-bearers of God.
Why? God created all people—including those with disabilities—in His image. Sometimes human laws fail to reflect that truth. But people can learn to see one another through God’s eyes.