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If you want to understand the harm that proponents of raising the minimum wage are willing to impose on people at the bottom of the labor market, look no further than a recent article in Bloomberg News by Lorraine Woellert. As of January 1, federal contractors will be required to pay workers no less than $10.10 per hour. As Woellert notes,

The rule applies to hundreds of non-profit contractors that provide jobs to adults with disabilities. Many of those workers will get a raise, but others might be unemployed as companies make hard choices about who they can afford to keep on the payroll.

Indeed, as many nonprofits are already operating on shoestring budgets, the question of whether they can afford to keep on a disabled worker who might sweep floors or do other menial tasks will be a difficult one. Woellert writes about a young man named Luke Grossman who does laundry at the local YMCA in Norfolk, VA. He has Down Syndrome and, as his father notes, “Luke’s life looks a whole lot different if he loses his job. . . . Anything which is going to have more people with disabilities sitting at home with nothing to do can’t be good.” The company that employs Luke does laundry for the U.S. military and other organizations. It employs about 1,000 disabled workers, some at below minimum wage. Things will not be able to stay the same under the new rule, according to the CEO.

But proponents of it, including Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, insist that the disabled are being exploited when they are paid less than minimum wage. The head of the National Disability Rights Network, which filed the lawsuit that resulted in the new federal rule, acknowledged that disabled people might lose their jobs as a result but he explained, “It’s dying with your rights on.”

Obviously we don’t want the disabled exploited but the vast majority of disabled people are not employed at all and since the recession hit their employment has been curtailed even further. For many businesses and nonprofits, hiring people for these low-end jobs—whether they are disabled, young, inexperienced or down on their luck—is as much a business decision as it is a philanthropic one. They do want to give people a chance to work for a living, to become part of a team, to integrate themselves into the community. But there is always the bottom line. And to the extent that the government makes these decisions harder for a boss to make, they are making life worse for a lot of people.

As Larry Grossman says,

It’s not like I’m opposed to [Luke] getting a raise, [but] you have to look at the intangible things that people get from the workplace. Luke really loves going to work. It gives him a sense of purpose.

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