Goodwill and the Power of Work: Helping People With Disabilities Find Employment

In America, 80 percent of people with disabilities do not have jobs. This shameful statistic should encourage all of us to help people with disabilities earn employment.
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In America, 80 percent of people with disabilities do not have jobs. This shameful statistic should encourage all of us to help people with disabilities earn employment. Fortunately, there are organizations dedicated to doing just that, including Goodwill Industries International, a 111-year-old social enterprise that places someone in a good job every 33 seconds of every business day. At Goodwill, our mission is to help people in need reach their full potential through learning and the power of work.

Goodwill has recently been unfairly singled out in a misinformed campaign regarding the Special Minimum Wage Certificate issued by the U.S. Department of Labor. This certificate is an important tool that is used by more than three thousand four hundred employers nationwide to help individuals with significant and multiple disabilities to gain and maintain employment. For thousands of people with the most significant disabilities, it means the difference between reaching their full employment potential and having no job at all.

The certificate is issued under section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, and it allows employers to pay commensurate wages to employees whose disabilities significantly impair their productivity; sometimes this means that they are paid less than the federal minimum wage. While it is quite easy to look at this provision quickly and ask why people with disabilities should be paid less than other workers, the truth is the certificate allows Goodwill and many other employers to provide opportunities for people with severe disabilities who otherwise might not be a part of the workforce. It helps many people find the best possible employment for them and it is a highly regulated and vital component of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Often people with disabilities are employed under the certificate and are then able to learn the skills they need to receive pay raises and earn competitive wages. It is just one of the many tools that Goodwill uses to provide opportunities for people with significant disabilities.

The certificate has led to the creation of jobs for hundreds of thousands of people with multiple physical and mental disabilities who report to work each day, flourish in friendships with their supervisors and co-workers, delight in mastering new tasks and learning new skills, and take pride in jobs well done. Seven thousand of these Americans work at Goodwill agencies across the country. While only a small percentage of Goodwill's 113,000 team members are paid under the certificate, we believe it is an essential tool to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities and to help every employee reach their personal employment potential, whatever that might be. The Special Wage Certificate is immensely helpful for those people who choose to use it as a path to employment.

While some have called for this program to be eliminated, let's be clear about exactly what that would mean. It would mean that many hard-working people would be out of their jobs. It would mean that even more than 80 percent of people with disabilities would be out of work. The people protesting the certificate's use are not offering solutions or sustainable models to help those people find work should the certificate be eliminated.

As anyone who has ever enjoyed the satisfaction of achieving a professional goal understands, there is an intrinsic value to working that cannot be denied. As individuals, we innately crave purpose, a sense of accomplishment, self-respect fostered by accomplishment, and acknowledgement for our contributions to life around us. As the one of the largest employers of people with disabilities in the United States, Goodwill is honored to help thousands of people earn this self-respect and sense of accomplishment every year.

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