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Demonstrators are pictured in front of Domino's Pizza during a strike aimed at the fast-food industry and the minimum wage in Seattle, Washington August 29, 2013. Fast-food workers went on strike and protested outside restaurants in 60 U.S. cities on Thur
The minimum wage for tipped workers hasn't gone up in more than 20 years, and a recent study reminds us of the human costs of that policy and of the restaurant industry's reliance on low-wage labor. Perhaps the most striking finding in the report by the Economic Policy Institute's Heidi Shierholz (now headed to the Department of Labor) is that "typical wage of $15.42 per hour" for restaurant managers "is still lower than the overall median wage outside the restaurant industry." So this is an industry where the managers earn less than the median for other industries. That's quite a commitment to low wages, with predictable results:
  • One in six restaurant workers, or 16.7 percent, live below the official poverty line. The poverty rate for workers outside the restaurant industry is more than 10 percentage points lower, at 6.3 percent.
  • Twice the official poverty threshold is commonly used by researchers as a measure of what it takes for a family to make ends meet. More than two in five restaurant workers, or 43.1 percent, live below twice the poverty line—more than twice the 19.9 percent share outside the restaurant industry.
Restaurants employ more than 10 million people, more than half of them women, with women earning less than men even within the same occupation (i.e. a woman makes less waiting on tables than does a man). There's also significant occupational clustering by race, with blacks disproportionately having the lowest-paying jobs such as cashiers/counter attendants and Latinos disproportionately likely to have low-paying jobs like dishwasher and dining room attendant.

This appalling situation, with so many workers in near-poverty, needs policy solutions. A tipped minimum wage higher than the current level of $2.13 an hour is the obvious first step, but Shierholz points to other policy changes that would improve the situation: extending overtime protections to cover more workers, comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship for undocumented workers, passing paid sick leave, cracking down on "just in time" scheduling, and cracking down on wage theft, among others. Policies, it almost goes without saying, that Republicans oppose and Democrats generally support.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Wed Aug 27, 2014 at 08:11 AM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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