Although the chief objection to sheltered workshops is financial exploitation, wage-earning is not the primary purpose of many of these ventures. Importantly, workshop compensation typically represents just a small fraction of the benefits conferred on the disabled individual: the full support package may include Social Security Income (which can be reduced as wages increase), Medicaid-funded supports, in-home assistance, residential care, behavioral support, respite, recreation, and other therapeutic services. This does not even include the money paid to workshops for providing training and supervision in safe, structured environments – necessary structural fees that often dwarf the compensation paid directly to participants.
Data from states that have closed their sheltered workshops do not necessarily demonstrate a correlated increase in competitive, minimum-wage employment. In Maine, two-thirds of former workshop participants are now unemployed. Those adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities that do have jobs work only an average of twelve hours a week, which is the lowest average in the country (https://docplayer.net/33593240-Transitions-a-case-study-of-the-conversion-from-sheltered-workshops-to-integrated-employment-in-maine.html). In Washington state, more than 80% of those with severe cognitive impairments remain unemployed (http://www.chcs.org/media/IDD_Service_Delivery_Systems_082812.pdf). Even Vermont – whose push for inclusive employment has been celebrated as a tremendous success – reports fewer adults with I/DD in supported employment since closing its sheltered workshops in 2002 (http://cfi.ucp.org/state-scorecards/). In short, when sheltered workshops close, participants often end up idle at home, not in competitive, minimum-wage jobs.