While Jim Crow laws regulated the enforced separation between white and African American patrons in restaurants, today restaurant workers are effectively separated by race and gender by a partition between livable-wage and poverty-wage positions.
The restaurant industry employs 11 million workers and is one of the fastest growing sectors of the U.S. economy. Despite the industry’s growth, restaurant workers occupy seven of the ten lowest-paid occupations reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the economic position of workers of color in the restaurant industry is particularly precarious. Restaurant workers experience poverty at nearly three times the rate of workers overall, and workers of color experience poverty at nearly twice the rate of white restaurant workers.
By focusing on the state with the largest restaurant industry, California, which includes several cities that are repeatedly named among the top dining destinations nationwide and one of the most diverse populations of any state in the country, the findings in this report have national significance.
Based on government data analysis, a limited pool of employer interviews, and interviews with experts, the initial findings explored in this report suggest the need for further research to more deeply understand the restaurant industry’s occupational segregation problem and how to address it.
Key findings include:
-The greatest racial and gender wage inequality is in the highest wage occupational categories—namely fine-dining server and bartender positions. The restaurants with the highest wages and greatest number of employees had the highest rates of segregation in both Front-of-the-House service positions and Back-of-the-House kitchen positions.
– Worker interviews point to real structural barriers that workers of color face in accessing livable-wage fine-dining service positions, including lack of training, social networks, transportation, childcare, interactions with the criminal justice system, and more. Those real barriers result in employers lacking pools of candidates of color for hiring into fine-dining service positions.
- In California, Latinos experience the highest levels of directly observable occupational segregation, with substantial under-representation in the higher-paying server and bartender occupations, while African Americans are largely absent altogether from meaningful participation in full-service restaurant occupations and overrepresented in limited-service/fast-food occupations.
- As a result of this segregation, overall after adjusting for education and language proficiency, workers of color receive 56% lower earnings when compared to equally qualified white workers. Women of color, on average, earned 71% of what white men earn, amounting to a $4-per-hour wage differential.
- States like California that have higher minimum wages have lower gender and race wage inequality than the national average, but the disparity is still quite high.