30 January 2014

Raise the minimum wage for all workers

by Ms. Foundation for Women Program Officer Aleyamma Mathew

During his State of the Union address, the president of the United States announced that he would issue an executive order that will raise the minimum wage for employees of federal contractors. In making the announcement, the president challenged Congress to follow his lead by raising the federal minimum wage for all workers.

Missing from the debate are workers who are paid the federal “tipped” minimum wage (also known as the subminimum wage that is paid to workers in certain jobs that traditionally are tipped). Currently, the tipped minimum wage is only $2.13 per hour. The workers paid this rate, who are predominantly women and often are the head of household, struggle to support themselves and their families.

According to a report released by Ms. Foundation grantee the Restaurant Opportunities Center, "[t]he vast majority of restaurant workers are unable to provide basic economic security to themselves and their families, meaning they must routinely choose what necessities their families will forego as they struggle to make ends meet."

As we embark upon a national dialogue about income inequality or opportunity, we must not leave behind the millions of women – and men – who are paid a subminimum wage. These workers must work multiple jobs to make ends meet. They struggle to cobble together child care – often during evening and night shifts, and often at unaffordable prices.

The restaurant industry – one of the fastest growing – impacts 10 million workers in this country.  Seventy percent of restaurant servers are women.  The scales of economic justice are tipped out of balance, and women bear the brunt of the injustice. This occupational segregation of women in low-wage jobs makes improving wages a top priority for the Ms. Foundation for Women.

It’s time to raise the tipped minimum wage and to improve the working conditions of tipped workers. Doing so is not only good for the workers and their families; it’s good for our communities and the economic future of our country.