(photo via wikimedia)
By Anthony Giancatarino, Program Manager
While listening to a national talk show on the radio the other day, I heard a caller argue against the merits of tipping restaurant servers. He demanded, “Why should I tip these workers for just doing their job?” What he and many Americans don’t know is that these workers don’t earn $7.25/hour, the federal minimum wage. The federal minimum wage for tipped employees is only $2.13 with variability from state to state.
This is the reality for Kirstan, a restaurant server living in Missouri. Kirstan works up to 10 hours a day to support herself and two-year-old daughter. Every day she must juggle the costs of rent, childcare and other bills while earning just $3.62/hour, the state’s minimum wage for tipped workers. Obviously, she relies heavily on the generosity of customer tips just to survive.
This is also the reality for Sean in Utah. He earns the $2.13/hour, the federal minimum wage for tipped employees, working for chain restaurants.
Earlier this week, we wrote about how the Farm Bill might provide some opportunities for food access and affordability. But for millions of restaurant workers like Kirstan and Sean relying on the tipped-minimum wage, these opportunities are not nearly enough to help them survive, let alone afford healthy foods.
We need to do more. As a nation that promises opportunity, we are failing those who work hard but often can’t afford the very food that they serve. Raising the minimum wage, including the wage for tipped workers, is one vital step towards creating opportunities.
Raising the minimum wage would:
Help lift people out of poverty.
Nearly 1 in 2 children who are born in poverty are likely to experience poverty for half their childhood. Recent research shows that social mobility between classes is at its worst in U.S. history, particularly for poor Black families, who are nearly twice as likely to remain living in poor neighborhoods compared to poor White families. A lot of initiatives are needed to address poverty, including public investments in jobs, education and infrastructure. But “nearly six million workers [60% people of color] would be lifted out of poverty if the minimum wage were raised [from $7.25] to $10.10.” That is big news – especially for children living with parents who earn the minimum wage.
Help families afford basic goods, such as food.
Back in 1991, a loaf of bread averaged 70 cents. Tipped workers (such as waiters/waitresses) received $2.13/hour. Today, a loaf of bread costs an average of $2.89. Yet tipped workers still receive $2.13/hour! While food prices have risen nearly three-fold over the last 10 years, the minimum wage for non-tipped workers has only risen by 1/3 ($5.15 to $7.25) over that same time. Stagnant wages, cuts to SNAP (the food stamp program) and rising food costs have created an enormous burden on families who must rely on food banks and cheap processed foods just to get by. Raising the minimum and tipped-minimum wages, and tying them to inflation, can help families afford healthy food and keep up with continual increases in food prices.
Create better opportunities for all of us.
The nation’s demographics are changing, with people of color set to be the majority by 2042. At the same time, baby boomers are retiring in huge numbers and their Social Security benefits depend on the earnings of those still working. Yet, there is only one job for every three people. And the fastest growing job opportunities are low-skill, low wage, service sector jobs such as retail, food service and home health aides — jobs predominantly held by people of color. We can’t sustain our elderly or the rest of the nation if our fastest growing population is stuck in low-wage work. Raising the minimum wage will not only fortify Social Security, but it will actually create more jobs and encourage stability in the workforce. It’s a win for all of us.
To be a nation of opportunity, we need a living wage that establishes a floor below which no one falls, a wage at which workers can afford to feed their families and make the rent without such incredible hardship. Right now that floor has a massive hole and countless hardworking mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters are continually falling through. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
We need our elected leaders to listen to the voices of Kirstan and Sean and the thousands of other food workers who are members of Restaurant Opportunities Center and the Food Chain Workers Alliance. Their call to raise the federal minimum wage and the minimum wage for tipped workers is one we all should support.