New Report Finds 40% of Restaurant Workers Live in Near Poverty

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Take the heat, get out of the kitchen, whatever — these folks need better pay.
Take the heat, get out of the kitchen, whatever — these folks need better pay. Photo: Buzz Productions/Getty Images

Ongoing minimum-wage-related protests and various issues faced by fast-food workers made it into the president’s State of the Union address this year, but an eye-opening new report just published by the Economy Policy Institute now indicates that low-level employees making 1,200 times less than the CEOs at the top aren’t the only ones getting shafted. Industry workers make almost half as much as their non-restaurant peers and receive comparatively fewer benefits, and the sector keeps growing. Here are some standout findings from the nonprofit and nonpartisan group’s report.

Take the heat, get out of the kitchen, whatever — these folks need better pay.
Take the heat, get out of the kitchen, whatever — these folks need better pay. Photo: Buzz Productions/Getty Images

• With tips included, the average hourly wage is $10, while people outside the industry typically pull in $18 an hour, a rate restaurant employees with postgraduate degrees can’t even break — they max out at $17.13 an hour.

• Accounting for inflation, that $10 hourly rate hasn’t budged since 2000.

• One in six workers lives below the poverty line (the poverty rate outside the industry is 6.3 percent), and most shocking, 40 percent fall below twice the poverty-line threshold, generally considered the income level that makes ends meet.

• Cashiers and counter attendants make the least ($8.23 an hour), followed by dishwashers ($8.62 an hour).

• Even managers only average $15.42 per hour, lower than the median wage outside the industry.

• It’s not a bunch of kids, either. More than half of workers are 25 to 54 years old. About three quarters have at least a high school diploma.

• Restaurants employ nearly a tenth of the private-sector workforce. And the percentage is growing — since 1990, it’s crept up by more than a quarter.

• Finally, only 14.4 percent of workers receive insurance from their employer, versus nearly half of workers elsewhere. Although among what few unionized workers there are — 1.8 percent, all told — the number with health benefits jumps appreciably to 41.9 percent.


Low Wages and Few Benefits Mean Many Restaurant Workers Can’t Make Ends Meet [EPI]
40 Percent of Restaurant Workers Live in Near-Poverty [Mother Jones]