G.L.Piggy [at] gmail.com
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Last week I wrote a piece rebutting a study put out by a women’s advocacy group that found that food service jobs – waiters and waitresses – suffer from a very low server minimum wage. Typically, this wage is $2.13 an hour for tipped employees. But the group drew conclusions about server income without looking at the tendency for servers to grossly under-report their income from tips. The group, The Restaurant Cities Citizens United – backed by NOW and other feminist organizations – wrote:
Servers, 71 percent female and the largest group of all tipped workers, represent the seventh-lowest paid occupation of the country’s lowest-paid jobs, with a median hourly wage of $8.81, well below the poverty wage. Not surprisingly, servers experience almost three times the poverty rate of the workforce as a whole.
I decided to look at my own tips for this past week, and I crunched a few numbers. I looked at the figures which the computer at work tracks. I compared what the computer reported as my actual net tips versus what I actually earned. Of course, at the end of the week, I adjusted my earned tips to reflect my true earnings. But this is not the norm in the industry. Most servers adjust their reported tips to minimize their tax burden. My income figures – assuming the computer’s calculations versus my true earnings:
When we’re discussing policy or poverty among a growing cohort of American workers it is important to remember this inherent aspect of the restaurant industry. If a restaurant worker reports more income than they actually earned, this would be a gross exception to the industry rule.
To provide a picture of exactly how much income is under-reported, the Bureau of Labor Statistics pegs the 90th percentile of waiter/waitress wages at $14.41 per hour. That’s even less than my under-reported tip amount, and I don’t work anywhere near fine-dining.
I don’t want to glorify this work, but there is a reason that people are moving towards the food service industry, just as there’s a reason that I haven’t had much of a fire under my ass to move out of the industry either. The money is decent, it is liquid, and the work stays inside the building. The schedules are also flexible which allows people like me to pursue outside interests like blogging. So when you see a group or an individual complain about low server wages and poverty, take it with a grain of salt – that is, if the server remembered to refill it.