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Raising the subminimum wage will hurt the disabled

The people most passionate about not hiking the subminimum wage for the disabled are advocates for people with disabilities.

On Wednesday, Assemblyman Richard Carrillo, D-Las Vegas, presented Assembly Bill 339. It would have originally required employers to pay those with intellectual and physical disabilities the minimum wage by 2024. Both Nevada and federal law allows employers to pay those individuals less than the minimum wage, called the subminimum wage.

“When we say that someone is not eligible to receive a basic minimum wage, because they were born a little bit different, what else are we saying about them?” said Erik Jimenez, who presented the bill and has a disability. “I think this is a human rights issue.”

There are two mistakes here. First, the law doesn’t prevent someone from earning more than the minimum wage. Some disabled workers do make more than the minimum wage. That group includes many who started in a job-training program in which they earned the subminimum wage. As their skills grew, so did their pay.

Second, what someone earns isn’t a reflection of their value as a human being but of their ability to create economic value. Human life is valuable because people are made in the image of God. It’s a grave error to conflate intrinsic value with economic value. Do that and you’ve laid the intellectual groundwork to say that the disabled have less intrinsic value because they produce less economic value.

Carrillo and Jimenez mean well — and that’s the problem. The nobility of their intentions has blinded them to the negative consequences of this proposal.

The groups that pay the disabled the subminimum wage aren’t evil businessmen exploiting a loophole. They’re largely charitable organizations, such as Opportunity Village, trying to help the disabled.

Opportunity Village runs a job-training center that would be impacted by the elimination of the subminimum wage. It doesn’t make money on that program. Just the opposite.

We run a “$2.3 million deficit on just our center-based programs,” Tracy Brown-May, director of advocacy, board and government relations for Opportunity Village, said. “It costs us money to serve people — a significant amount of money.” The reason: Those who earn subminimum wage often need help with things such as going to the bathroom.

Opportunity Village would have to shut down its job-training program if politicians eliminated the subminimum wage, Brown-May said. That would send the 402 people in the program to adult daycare, where they’d do nothing economically productive.

To their credit, Carrillo and Jimenez presented an amendment that gutted their bill and replaced it with a study. The goal of the study is to determine the feasibility of paying all persons with disabilities the full minimum wage by 2026.

There’s no need for a study or this bill — in any form. The law of supply and demand will still exist in seven years, which means raising the subminimum wage will increase unemployment among the disabled.

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Listen to him discuss his columns each Monday at 9 a.m. with Kevin Wall on 790 Talk Now. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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