Let’s say you are a waitress or waiter. Let’s say you worked the night of Jan. 28. And let’s imagine that somewhere in your restaurant a big-screen television beamed President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address while you were taking orders, delivering food and busing dishes. Like millions of other Americans, you would be among the most underpaid employees in the country’s economy:tipped workers. While you may have been pleased to hear the president’s executive order to raise the minimum wage for federal contract workers from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour, you would know this move is irrelevant to you. And you would know that during the 1 hour and 5 minutes it took him to deliver his promises — on everything from making health care affordable to boosting the economy — you would have earned $2.30.
For those who are not tipped workers, the idea that these workers are only guaranteed a paltry $2.13 an hour might come as a shock. But the reality is that millions of tipped workers take home much less than the federal minimum wage, which has excluded them for more than 20 years. The National Employment Law Project crunched the numbers and found that the value of the tipped minimum wage, in real terms, has fallen 36 percent since it was frozen in 1991. A 2012 study by Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC-United) found that waitresses and waiters, who make up the lion’s share of tipped workers, suffer three times the poverty rate as the general workforce and that tipped workers rely disproportionately on food stamps.