Christian Schneider

Author, Columnist

Public Problems, Private Solutions: Finding Dignity at Work

My uncle Eddie loves his job. A few times a week, he hops on a bus and rides halfway across Milwaukee to get to Pizza Hut, where he’s worked for seven years. He jams his hat down over his eyebrows, throws on his headphones, and listens to the Brewers while washing pizza pans, prepping vegetables and doing other chores.

You see, Eddie has Down syndrome. To him, his job is more than a chance to take home a check. While many new workers may see scrubbing greasy pans and doing dishes as beneath them, Eddie relishes the chance to be responsible, to make money (to support his insatiable appetite for 70’s classic rock CDs), and to enjoy the camaraderie with other co-workers. His job is his worth, and he lives for the daily accomplishment of a job well done.

The irreplaceable self worth that Eddie feels isn’t due to any government program. In fact, the opposite is true – the more he works, the more it jeopardizes his Social Security checks, which means the government is providing a disincentive for him to work more hours (which he is more than willing to do).

Many people with good intentions would find value in government programs that work to get people like Eddie into the workforce. In fact, the state Department of Workforce Development houses the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, which helps individuals with disabilities find janitorial, food service, and other types of jobs. But as is the case with many government programs, DVR has been criticized in the past for poor bookkeeping, wasting money, and doing a substandard job of finding work for those it served.

What state lawmakers often don\’t realize is that there are private sector answers for many of the problems our society faces. There are actually companies who specialize in finding work for the disabled, and our lawmakers can help the process not by imposing more regulations, but by providing incentives for businesses to utilize their services. Private companies can do good work more efficiently, as the incentive is there for them to be streamlined, effective, and to provide good service.

A bill currently pending before the Wisconsin Legislature would provide an excellent opportunity to apply conservative, free market principles in getting more disabled citizens to work. The bill, AB 622, would provide tax incentives to businesses that employ disabled citizens through a registered community rehabilitation program, which is an organization that specializes in finding jobs for the disabled. While it would result in less revenue brought in to the state\’s treasury, there is a big difference between a new program \”costing\” the state more money and a tax break depriving the treasury of taxpayer money it should have never had to begin with.

At 45 years old, Eddie is living on borrowed time. Over 50% of individuals with Down syndrome suffer from congenital heart disease, which often cuts their lives short before their 40th birthday. If it is his heart that ends his life it will be a cruel irony, as it is the depth of his heart that keeps him getting on that bus and showing up for work. There are no doubt thousands of individuals just like him willing to do small tasks with the expertise of a neurosurgeon.

You’ll never see Eddie when you go to Pizza Hut, but you’ll know when he’s gone. Let’s just hope there’s another disabled citizen there to make it their life’s work to provide you with a clean plate.

1 Comment

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