Happy Valentine's Day ... And Don't Forget to Tip Your Waitress

As is true for roughly, oh, 72,000 working parents a day, I'm home today with a sick child. 

Okay, I made up that "statistic." But here's a real one: 70 percent of all U.S. children are growing up in households with all adults employed. And one-third of those working adults have no paid sick days—almost all of them working for the lowest of wages, who cannot afford to miss even a day of washing dishes or waiting tables. Fortunately, my job is relatively flexible. I can stay home, and I won't be penalized if this isn't my most brilliant Prospect post of the year. But if a waitress's child gets sick, either that child will go to school anyway, or some family member or friend will be drafted hastily to take him in, or the waitress will stay home and lose wages that family really can't afford to do without. 

Last year, Heather Boushey and Joan Williams wrote a report that should have gotten much more attention than it did, called The Three Faces of Work-Family Conflict: The Poor, the Professionals, and the Missing Middle, which looks at policies that we should have: 

Only the United States lacks paid maternity-leave laws among the 30 industrialized democracies in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. The only family leave available to Americans is unpaid, limited to three months, and covers only about half the labor force. Discrimination against workers with family responsibilities, illegal throughout Europe, is forbidden only indirectly here. Americans also lack paid sick days, limits on mandatory overtime, the right to request work-time flexibility without retaliation, and proportional wages for part-time work. All exist elsewhere in the developed world.

So it should come as no surprise that Americans report sharply higher levels of work-family conflict than do citizens of other industrialized countries. The United States today has the public policy most hostile to families in the developed world.

And here's something to think about if you and your sweetie go out to dinner tonight: 90 percent of restaurant workers have no paid sick days. That's information from a new research report issued yesterday by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, Tipped Over the Edge, which includes this: 

One major cause of poverty for these working women is that restaurant lobbyists have succeeded in keeping the federal minimum wage for servers and other tipped workers frozen at only $2.13 per hour for the past 20 years....

  • Since 52 percent of all restaurant workers are women, but 66 percent of tipped workers are women, the lower minimum wage for tipped workers is essentially creating legalized gender inequity in the restaurant industry. In most industries, the gender wage gap is due to employer discrimination, but in the restaurant industry, it’s also a matter of law.
  • Seven of the 10 lowest-paid occupations in the United States are restaurant occupations. Most of these occupations are majority female and pay median wages below the poverty line.
  • Servers—of whom 71 percent are female—are almost three times more likely to be paid below the poverty line than the general workforce and nearly twice as likely to need food stamps as the general population...
  • ... women are confined to the lower-paying segments of the industry such as quick-serve and family style rather than the highest-paying fine dining segment.  So even within the same job classification of server, full-time, year-round female servers are paid just 68 percent of what male servers are paid ($17,000 versus $25,000 annually). Over a work career, that means the industry takes an extra $320,000 from each female server—money that might otherwise make it possible to buy a home or car or send children to college.

I'd say more, but my son is calling. So tip your server well—and work for a higher minimum wage for tipped workers.