Thank you for visiting our website

Featuring breaking political news and commentary on local, state, and national issues.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Check, Please

Ken Kerr Bio

There are 7.5 million Americans working in the food and beverage industry—waiter, bartenders, hostesses. The US Department of Labor reports that average hourly wages, including tips, are $7.14 for waiters, $7.86 for bartenders, and $7.78 for hostesses. That comes out to about $16,500 a year. Barbara Ehrenreich chronicled the server experience in her 2001 book, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. She set out to answer the question "how can anyone survive, let alone prosper, on $6 to $7 an hour?" The answer—you can't.

As far back as last June, servers started to complain about reduced tip income. Let's set a side for now the 1998 IRS estimate that "fewer than 40% of all tips received were reported, an estimated $9–$12 billion in unreported income." We also won't consider that restaurant owners are only required to pay $2.13 an hour in direct wages. The point is, tips are down. And in an economy that is focused on service—not manufacturing, agriculture, or mining—that is a canary in a coal mine.

We just heard this week that another 533,000 jobs were lost in November—the second biggest loss since WWII and the largest since 1974. Unemployment is at 6.7%, and that only counts those who want to work and are actively job seeking. We also got confirmation this week about something many Americans, like restaurant workers, already knew; we are, and have been, in a recession for the past year.

Unlike in other countries where tipping is expected, in the United States, tipping is an institution. The entire industry is structured so that menu costs are kept down because we supplement wages with cash gratuities to restaurant employees. We can't change it. We can't all of a sudden decide that we no longer need to provide part of the restaurant's payroll. We may not like it, but that's the way it is. The system has evolved and the customer and server are in a symbiotic relationship. We are co-dependant; we both want to eat.

So, here we are. The economy is a mess. People are out of work. And it's Christmas.

It is up to up to do something about it. It sounds cliché, but, this is the time of year when we need to think of others. If we cut back, others get cut. If we stay home, others lose homes. If we don't "do," others do without.

As much as possible, we need to continue to support local workers and businesses. Especially remember those who rely on end-of-year gratuities to cover family holiday expenses—the newspaper carrier, the barber, the stylist, the childcare provider, dog groomer, the doorman, the trash collector.

What we seem to have forgotten is that what is great about this country is our ability to get things done on a local, grassroots level. Our next president understands that, and he will provide the inspiration and leadership in about five weeks. Until then it's up to us.


To receive "Daily Email Updates" from Air-it-Out with George Wenschhof, click on "Subscribe to this feed" below.

No comments: