A Tipping Point

A Tipping Point: Raise the Minimum Wage

By Larkin Callaghan

Living Off Tips Graphic

This Valentine’s Day I spent a great evening with two dear friends at a restaurant we had all wanted to try. The food was delicious, the service was on point, and come the end of the night, we all felt pretty pleased with our evening. Then came the bill and the standard dividing and signing happened –

“How much are you guys leaving for tip?”

One of my friends queried, as someone usually does at this point. What usually happens is that 20 – 25% is tallied, we sign, and off we go. Because of the frantic pace of this particular holiday’s dining room, I added a few extra bucks to my total and we slipped away.

This particular Valentine’s Day, no doubt one of the influences for my (and my friends’) bumping up in tip was that the day before – to significantly less….fanfare, shall we say, from most of the media – was the National Day of Action, sponsored by Restaurant Opportunities United, meant to raise awareness of the difficulties faced by workers surviving on hourly wages and tips. This fantastic organization is doing essential work and creating a mobilizing force around the issue of raising the minimum wage.

When you look at the figures – a federally declared amount of $7.25 an hour – it is staggering to think how one might survive on wages of that size, much less in a city like ours, frequently deemed one of the most expensive places in…the…world. And for those serving us in our favorite restaurants, the situation is even direr. With those working in jobs in which a significant amount of their income is garnered from tips, the guaranteed minimum wage is a mind-boggling $2.13 an hour. That is not a typo. $2.13! This limit was set twenty years ago. As in, the ‘90s.

Interested in some other facts? 6 out of ten of the lowest paying jobs in the States are in restaurants. And since Spark members are always interested in the gender disparity – 70 percent of tipped restaurant workers are women.

An argument against raising the minimum wage to a livable standard would seem hard to come by, considering that a full-time hourly worker only rakes in $15,080 a year. Luckily we have a governor who supports raising the wages of our hourly and tipped workers, but this still needs momentum to spread. (Fortunately, it seems that the issue is gaining more national traction – Rolling Stone even delved into it in their latest issue, in a comprehensive article detailing the political warfare around this issue, a piece that I highly recommend.)

So what can we do as consumers? Those few extra dollars I left on Valentine’s Day have a nearly insignificant impact once tips are divided among the staff and it’s likely balanced out by someone under-tipping – so while it’s nice to do, and I certainly applaud it, something needs to change on a much bigger scale.

Luckily, folks in the big house (of Reps) agree! A couple weeks ago, the House of Representatives launched a discharge petitions to force a vote on the Fair Minimum Wage Act, which would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2015. That isn’t even as high as the minimum wage would be today if it had kept up with inflation (it would be $10.74 in that case). Of the 30 million folks who would receive a raise across industries, 56 percent are women, and nearly half are workers of color.

Here are some things we can do to help –

Everyone deserves a fair wage. No one should have to rely on someone’s holiday bump in tips to survive.

 

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