Most Restaurant Workers Don’t Earn Enough to Feed Their Own Families

According to Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, a nonprofit organization and worker center that supports and connects restaurant workers throughout the country, more than 13 million U.S. residents, the majority of them women of color, are employed in restaurants. In 18 states, they earn a base pay of $2.13 an hour plus tips, a sub-minimum wage that has been frozen since 1991. Twenty-six states pay a somewhat higher sub-minimum, while just seven — Alaska, California, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington — provide the full federal minimum to those who serve our food when we dine out.

This leaves hundreds of thousands of workers in poverty; in New York City alone, a winter 2019 survey conducted by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and the Community Service Society found that 36 percent of tipped workers employed in eateries, nail salons and car washes lived at or below the federal poverty line — $16,460 for a two-person household; $25,100 for four — and more often than not, had to rely on food stamps, soup kitchens and Medicaid.

New York is not an anomaly. The Economic Policy Institute found that in states that allow payment of a sub-minimum wage, 18.5 percent of workers are impoverished; in states where everyone earns the federal minimum, the poverty rate drops to 11.1 percent. Furthermore, the institute notes that closing the loophole in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 that allows payment of a sub-minimum wage, and upping the hourly minimum to $15 by 2024, would boost the wages of 38.1 percent of African American and 23.2 percent of white workers.

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By Eleanor J. Bader, in Truthout, April 29, 2019