It is tough enough for young college graduates and others who can't find jobs -- the May 2013 unemployment rate for people 20-24 is 13.2 percent -- but when it comes to youth with severe disabilities, the reality is downright dismal. The employment rate for 20- to 24-year-old youth with disabilities is nearly cut in half at only 32 percent.
Goodwill has recently been singled out regarding its use of the Special Minimum Wage Certificate issued by the U.S. Department of Labor, even though thousands of employers use the certificate to employ hundreds of thousands of employees with the most significant disabilities. The certificate, issued under section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, is a valuable tool because it allows employers to focus on what someone can do rather than what they can't.
We argue that for young people with the most significant disabilities, the Special Minimum Wage Certificate means the difference between reaching their personal employment potential and having no job at all. Janet Sullivan of Marion, Iowa, recently wrote to us about her son who has a significant intellectual disability, and he came to Goodwill as a 22-year-old who had never been employed.
We heard through a friend that our local Goodwill provided job opportunities for people with disabilities. We took him in for an evaluation and job training, and he began working shortly thereafter, even though he had never held a job before. He did various types of assembly work for appliance manufacturers and sorting projects for other companies.
Almost immediately, we noticed positive changes in Michael, and he's only grown over the years. Working gives him a feeling of purpose and meaning that he couldn't get from other activities. He's conscientious, dependable and takes pride in his work. Holding a job, he has made remarkable progress and has moved toward greater independence.
Michael is paid 'piece rate,' which means he is paid for each piece he completes as part of his job, and he makes less than the minimum wage on an hourly basis. While some people with disabilities work productively at a high level, my son simply cannot competitively earn the minimum wage.
What Goodwill does is fair and compassionate. Goodwill gives Michael a chance to be like the rest of us -- to contribute to society, to know the satisfaction that comes from a job well done, and to have a chance at a productive, fulfilling life.
It is a story we hear over and over again from parents whose children are employed using the Special Minimum Wage Certificate. J. Garrett from Asheville, N.C., writes about his son Christopher who has had severe physical and mental limitations since birth.
While one can long debate the pros and cons of the 'commensurate wage' there is no debate about the fact that programs in the community for adults with severe disabilities like my son are extremely limited, hard to find, and difficult to sustain. Any change to eliminate the Special Minimum Wage Certificate would adversely affect Christopher and other participants like him, depriving them of a daily work experience in a caring and structured environment.
My wife and I strongly support the Goodwill program and commend the staff for their efforts to provide a program that means so much to Christopher and the other adults with severe disabilities who work there. My son eagerly looks forward to each day he spends at Goodwill, and he leaves the house each morning with a smile on his face as he goes off to work. We should all be so fortunate.
Anyone who has ever enjoyed the satisfaction of earning a promotion at work or even just hearing the boss say, "Thanks for a job well done," understands the fundamental value of work. Goodwill is among the largest employers of people with disabilities in the United States, and we are proud to help people like Michael and Christopher earn the dignity and sense of accomplishment that comes from work.