Restaurant Waitstaff Stuck at $2.13 Minimum Wage for 22 Years

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The federal hourly minimum pay for people dependent on tips hasn't risen in more than 2 decades, even though the normal minimum has increased 5 times.

The federal minimum wage in 1991 was $4.25 for most workers. It rose to $4.75 in 1996, $5.15 in 1997, $5.85 in 2007, $6.55 in 2008, and $7.25 in 2009.

The federal minimum wage for waitstaff, bellhops, manicurists and others who rely on tips was $2.13 in 1991. It’s still $2.13 today, although new legislation might finally raise it, Bloomberg says.

Technically, those people should still make no less than $7.25 per hour. If their tips aren’t enough to fill in the gap, their employer is required by law to pay the difference. But not all employers do. Bloomberg cites a waitress whose didn’t — and that could put under-appreciated staff in the position of fighting for their due.

Some states have a minimum wage higher than the federal rate. In states that have a lower or no minimum wage, the federal minimum applies, the Department of Labor says. But only seven states require the same minimum for both tipped and non-tipped workers, according to Bloomberg.

There are an estimated 2.3 million servers in the U.S., and a wage increase could help many. It could also hurt some, if opponents of an increase are to be believed. Some restaurant owners claim their margins are so thin they would have to fire staff and cut hours, or raise prices.

Proposed legislation would raise the full non-tipped minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2015 and require that tipped staffers are paid no less than 70 percent of that. That works out to at least $7.07 coming directly from employers. But both the National Restaurant Association and Republican congressional leaders have voiced opposition to raising the minimum wage.

Stacy Johnson

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