Unfinished Business

Yes, the Tipped Minimum Wage is Rooted in Racial Injustice

A new video released last week by the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) United, featuring actress Thandie Newton, offers this reminder: The subminimum wage for tipped working people, which is still just $2.13 per hour, is a continuing legacy of slavery.

On April 1, we marked the 25th anniversary of that $2.13 per hour wage, noting that tipped working people are disproportionately women, and that nearly half are 30 years old or older. These workers, who experience twice the poverty rate as non-tipped working people, have incomes that are essentially dependent upon the whims of their customers. And as the ROC United video makes clear, the history of this subminimum wage has ugly roots. As we said in April:

Not only is the current rate of $2.13 per hour difficult for families to survive on, the subminimum wage is rooted in post-abolition racist attitudes. Although the practice of ‘tipping’ dates to European aristocrats, America’s culture of tipping emerged on the premise of undercutting free African Americans from receiving equal pay. Prior to the emancipation of African Americans, tipping was not socially welcomed. It expanded in America as a way to demean and degrade African Americans as servants in what were considered “menial” jobs. It may be less visible to us now, but today’s $2.13 tipped minimum wage continues the legacy of a caste system by perpetuating racial and gender inequality, while dehumanizing millions of hardworking people. This continued racial injustice is a reason why an overall increase of the minimum wage was a core demand of the August 1963 March on Washington.

Watch the video below.

For more about why raising the federal minimum wage – and eliminating the subminimum wage for tipped working people – is a civil and human rights issue, read our October 2015 report here. And for more information about the One Fair Wage campaign, click here.


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