Tara Bahrampour, Washington Post - July 21, 2013
It's hard to tell from this article whether this is a genuinely empowering, admirable venture, a disability sweatshop, or something in between … like one of the thousands of programs that mean well, but which still operate under assumptions unexamined and unrevised for years, maybe decades. What's really disappointing about this story is that the Washington Post has the resources and journalistic muscle to ask really useful questions. Yet, there are only two sentences in the whole article that indicate any awareness that there's a debate to be had about fair wages and worker rights in various hybrid workplaces / training programs for people with disabilities:
"The employees, who range in age from 21 to 58, work from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., make $7.25 an hour and have sick leave, vacation days and profit-sharing. Some have worked there since the 1990s."
Well … how about some followup on that? $7.25 is Virgina's Minimum Wage. Lots of "sheltered workshops" pay less than that, so this is a good sign. But, do any of the employees with disabilities get paid more than the minimum? What about the ones who have "worked there since the 1990s?" What about health insurance? How do the wages of the bakery's disabled workers compare with the non-disabled workers … like the cashier mentioned in the article? Also, out of all the workers with disabilities in the bakery, since the '90s, have none of them turned out to be able to handle management, customer service, or cash-handling duties? Or, are they only allowed to work in the kitchen? I don't know, because either the reporter didn't think to ask such questions, or she did, but an Editor didn't think the answers were interesting enough to include in the finished article.
Look, this place really does seem a bit better than a lot of employment programs, but I'd like to see some of the Post's other reporters … Like Ezra Klein, Sarah Kliff, and Dylan Matthews at Wonkblog … dig into this as an economics and policy analysis story. What is the state of the art in disability employment? What factors play into how people with disabilities are paid, the hours they work, their opportunities for advancement? How does Obamacare relate to Medicaid, Medicare, and the possibility of private health insurance coverage through an employer? How does all of it rate to the coming Apocalypse for Social Security's Disability program?
In short, why do these always end up being human interest stories, when there's hard news right there waiting to be reported?