A new study by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United) finds that if the minimum wage were raised to $10.10 an hour it would be enough to pull nearly six million Americans out of poverty.
The report, titled Realizing the Dream: How the Minimum Wage Impacts Racial Equity in the Restaurant Industry and In America, provides recommendations on raising the minimum wage for the nation’s lowest paid workers. This subset of workers has been labeled “the working poor” by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) which defines them as “those who either had jobs or were looking for at least half the year and still fell below the poverty line.”
Many proposed minimum wage raises have been introduced by lawmakers in the past year. The recommendations of the ROC United most closely resemble those proposed by California Rep. George Miller.
The report focuses on the food service industry which has a reputation for paying low wages. Currently, this sector makes up 10% of our GDP and employs one sixth of our workforce. A growing number of minority women, many of whom are the head of their family, make up that group:
Restaurant workers’ wages have not kept pace with the industry’s economic growth, and this burden has been carried most severely by communities of color. The fact that the federal tipped minimum wage has remained at $2.13 for over 22 years has led to greater poverty among all workers, but a comparison by race shows a particularly severe effect on certain groups: over 20% of Latino and African American, and 19% of Native American, tipped workers live in poverty, compared to less than 14% of White workers.
Over 40% of all workers earning at or below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 are workers of color, and this applies to both tipped occupations and all restaurant occupations.
However, the reality is much worse when examining workers with incomes below the poverty line. Overall, 58% of workers with incomes below the poverty line are people of color, and over 50% of tipped workers and restaurant workers with incomes below the poverty line are people of color…
Nearly six million workers would be lifted out of poverty if the minimum wage were raised to $10.10 as has been proposed in Congress, of which 60%, or over three and a half million would be people of color. Over 500,000 of these would be restaurant workers, and nearly 300,000 of these would be workers of color.
Nearly 50% of tipped workers lifted out of poverty would be workers of color. Examining all tipped workers and their families, over 400,000 individuals of color would be lifted out of poverty, and 150,000 of these would be children. Among restaurant workers and their families, over 700,000 people of color would be lifted out of poverty, and over 250,000 would be children.
In his State of the Union address, President Obama said, “no one who works full time should have to live in poverty.” Yet, today in America, many of our neighbors who professionally make and serve our food are doing just that. What business interests like to label “a job killer” can actually be more accurately described as “a life saver.”