A new report states that Massachusetts has the second-highest race and gender wage gap for restaurant workers in the nation, tied with New York and behind only Alabama.
The report from One Fair Wage, a nonprofit that supports service workers, found that Black female restaurant workers in Massachusetts make on average $7.79 less per hour ― including tips — than white men in the same positions, which amounts to 40 percent less. The study concludes that the already-existing wage gap has been exacerbated by the pandemic. The study also found that most service workers have seen their tips decrease by 50 percent or more since the pandemic hit.
“I was shocked,” said Saru Jayaraman, president of One Fair Wage, when she first saw the results of the report. “The results are so extreme in Massachusetts ... because it means that the pandemic has revealed the core inequalities that existed before and exacerbated them. Black and brown communities are hardest hit by the pandemic and by the economic situation.”
One Fair Wage looked at 23 US states with large enough populations of Black restaurant workers to make the comparison statistically meaningful; the report was based on a mix of government data and worker surveys. The studies also compared Black women to white women and Latinx women, to tease out the disparities between race and gender. It was found that white women made less than white men but more than women of color.
Liz Reinhardt, a Black resident of Boston who has worked in Massachusetts restaurants for seven years, was not surprised by the findings.
”In my experience working for a chain restaurant, I definitely see a disparity in the consistency of my tips compared to my peers of different races and genders,” said Reinhardt. “I noticed that my male counterparts tended to be promoted to higher positions that paid more or were more likely to get raises, and when female and especially minority servers like me asked for higher wages, it tended to be something that was just pushed off.” Reinhardt noted that this was not her experience in “mom and pop”-style restaurants that ensured that income and tips were fair.
The report says that race and gender pay inequalities are a result of three factors: women (and women of color in particular) being over-represented in lower-paid sectors of the industry; greater levels of occupational segregation between higher- and lower-paid positions for women of color in fine dining restaurants; and the fact that people of color (specifically Black workers) receive less in tips than equally qualified white workers.
Jayaraman, who is also a professor at UC Berkeley at the Goldman School of Public Policy, said that COVID-19 “has exacerbated the disparity in the situation between Black women and white men because the wage gap existed prior to the pandemic.
Yamila Ruiz at One Fair Wage, who helps restaurant owners advocate for sustainable business models, said that she was not surprised by the data.
”We know that Boston is a very segregated city, and I think it’s a lack of restaurant owners and the community to really push for racial equity in restaurants,” said Ruiz. “It’s sad that it takes a report like this to reveal that information, but at the same time, now we’re armed with the tools that we need to be able to make progressive policy changes, and for restaurant owners to take it upon themselves to push for this racial equity within their own restaurants.”
The study also found that 93 percent of Black tipped-service workers have reported being unable to or unsure of whether they could afford rent, while 82 percent of Black workers reported that they can only afford groceries for two weeks or less.
To fix the growing wage gap, Jayaraman suggested guaranteeing workers full livable minimum wages and encouraging legislators to stop listening to corporate chains and pay attention to the struggles of workers.
“To understand that just before the pandemic, Massachusetts was the second-worst in the nation on this, resulting in a pretty horrific experience for workers of color and women of color in particular in the service sector during the pandemic, to me rises to levels of crisis proportions,” said Jayaraman.