Capitalism requires poverty in order to function properly. To ensure profits, the labour market must be undervalued and this is done the most successfully when there is a large number of people who are desperate for money; therefore, they will take low paying and/or dangerous jobs. Disabled people’s labour is consistently undervalued and this has significant detrimental effects on our capacity to support ourselves and have a quality of life that is acceptable or that is on par with the rest of society.
The labour of disabled people has, at times, been so seriously undervalued that it became law that we could not work. For instance during the American New Deal programs in the 1930s, many disabled people were not allowed to work and were given shamefully low amounts to live on because they were considered substandard. Rather than create make work programs for disabled people like it did for other workers at the time, the government deemed most disabled people ineligible. Not allowing disabled people to work meant that they were undervalued as labourers and as citizens.
Today, it can be illegal for disabled people to work under some government programs. However, it is more common for disabled people to encounter work disincentives which mean that large portions of people’s work income are taken by the government. These continue to occur even though in several provinces and states, one study found that eliminating financial disincentives cost the government about $110 per person on assistance but meant an increase of annual income for people on assistance* of about $2,400.
Work disincentives also include the loss of health and other benefits that leave many disabled people with no choice but to stay unemployed so they can continue to get attendant care, health care, drug and dental coverage and other benefits.
Indeed, disabled people have an unemployment rate that is twice as high and labour non-participation rates four times as high as non-disabled individuals. In the United States, just 38 percent of disabled people have jobs whereas 78 percent of non-disabled people are employed. Psych survivors and people with mental health issues have the highest rates of unemployment among the disabled, at 80%iii. One-half of employed disabled people earn under $15,000 annually in Canada. In the United States, your chances of being poor are about one in four if you are a working-age disabled person but only about one in ten if you are non-disabled. For disabled people, poverty and unemployment are painfully common.
*This was for everyone on assistance, not just disabled people.