Sunday, April 14, 2013

So Very Little

Trey Smith

One of the guests on Friday's Real Time with Bill Maher was a young woman (I forget her name) who came to talk about the low minimum wage for workers who receive tips, predominantly waitresses. I had forgotten that tipped workers are exempt from the base minimum wage on the federal level and in most states. Did you know that in 28 states tipped workers earn a wage of $4.00 or less per hour? If based solely on the federal standard, tipped workers earn a measly $2.13 per hour in cash wages! That's only marginally higher than being an indentured servant or a slave!!

As this guest told it -- this was just as true as when Della and I first met when she working as a waitress -- food servers often receive "paychecks" for a zero amount. It is really nothing more than a paper record of the taxes and other deductions for that pay period. The money to pay rent and utilities and to buy food must come from tips -- money that is not mandatory. And so, some weeks food servers will have the requisite funds to meet their needs and other weeks they won't. What a crappy way to live!

As Main Street remains in the throes of the economic downturn, average folks have less money to spend. When you must watch every penny being spent, it means that a lot of people don't tip at all or the tips will be less than sufficient. Here we are in 2013 and our laws still expect food service workers to survive on tip money. It is absolutely insane.

It is not this way in Washington, Oregon or California (the left coast). These states have a minimum wage that is far higher than the federal version. Not only is the minimum wage higher, but it covers tipped workers as well. Here's the interesting upshot: Despite what the restaurant industry will tell you, these mandated higher base wages for tipped workers have not meant that eateries are going out of business left and right! All three states have a thriving food service industry environment. The only difference is that tipped workers aren't treated like absolute dog meat!

It is long past time for the federal minimum wage to incorporate tipped workers into its mandate. To treat tipped workers like second-class citizens is a stain on our national ethos.

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