Women and workers of color are disproportionately represented in lower-paid restaurant jobs, and they face the most barriers to obtaining "living wage" positions in the industry, according to a new report from Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC).
The restaurant worker advocacy group's research sheds light on and calls for an end to "Jim-Crow-like segregation in the restaurant industry."
"While Jim Crow regulated the enforced separation between white and African-American patrons in restaurants, today we largely find that restaurant workers are effectively segregated by race and gender by a partition between livable-wage server and bartender positions and poverty-wage busser, runner, and kitchen positions, and between limited service (fast food), full service casual and full service fine-dining restaurants," the report says.
ROC's report, based on government data plus employer, worker and expert interviews, examined "racial and gender occupational segregation" in the restaurant industry nationwide. The report also provided state-specific data for California, which has the largest restaurant industry in the nation.
Nearly 11 million workers are employed in the U.S. restaurant industry, but just 20 percent of restaurant jobs provide a "living wage."
Consequently, restaurant workers have a poverty rate of nearly three times the rate of the nation's entire workforce. Restaurant workers of color are nearly twice as likely as white restaurant workers to live in poverty.
"It's certainly not a coincidence that the largest employer of people of color is also the absolute worst paying industry in the country," ROC United founding co-director Saru Jayaraman said in a statement. "And while we know that the restaurant industry can do better, the very limited living-wage jobs available within the restaurant industry are systemically off-limits to people of color and women. That's why over the last decade of organizing and conducting research on the restaurant industry, occupational segregation by race has emerged as one of the highest priority challenges faced by restaurant workers nationwide."
Among racial groups, 55 percent of all restaurant workers are white, 25 percent are Latino and 11 percent are African American, according to the report.
Latinos occupy 34 percent of back-of-the-house positions, including cooks and dishwashers, and 32 percent of lower-paid "Tier II" jobs. Latinos employed in front-of-the-house positions, which include waitstaff and bussers, earn $10 an hour compared to $11.14 an hour earned by their white counterparts.
African Americans represent 14 percent of all "Tier II" restaurant workers and 12 percent of back-of-the-house positions. African Americans make much less than whites, at $10.33 an hour, in front-of-the-house positions.
"As with women, this can likely be explained by (African Americans') predominance as servers in quick-service casual rather than fine-dining restaurants," the report says.
Women and men represent 52 percent and 48 percent of all restaurant workers, respectively. Women make up 64 percent of all front-of-the-house service workers and earn an average hourly wage of $9.13 in such positions. By comparison, male front-of-the-house workers make an average wage of $13.91 an hour, according to the report.
In fine-dining establishments, men hold 57 percent of the server positions, compared with 43 percent of women.
ROC's study found evidence of implicit racial and gender bias among employers against workers. However, in interviews, workers of color often highlighted the "real barriers" they face in accessing higher-paid, fine-dining service positions. Such barriers include lack of training, social networks, transportation, and child care as well as having a criminal background.
Both workers and employers also said "self-selection bias" is an issue. Because of self-selection bias, "Workers of color are less likely to apply for top-tier positions in fine-dining establishments, either because management and/or clientele behavior makes them uncomfortable, or because they feel they lack the education or skills to succeed in those positions," the report says.
ROC makes some recommendations to tackle the issue of racial and gender occupational segregation in the restaurant industry:
-For employers: incentives, mandates, and prohibitions to combat bias, as well as specific implicit bias trainings as have been adopted by a some police forces and other sectors to ward against the perpetuation of inequity.
-For workers: Policymakers should support workforce development programs such as ROC's COLORS Hospitality for Workers (CHOW) program that provide free or low cost, quality Front-of-the-House hard and soft skills training for all workers, but primarily targeted at workers of color and women, to advance within the industry.
-For customers: education and engagement to enlist the support of like-minded consumers in creating a climate where racial equity is lauded and rewarded, including ad campaigns and direct customer engagement with employers regarding fair hiring policies.
The National Restaurant Association, the restaurant industry's leading business association, took issue with ROC's report.
Christin Fernandez, a National Restaurant Association spokeswoman, issued this comment to Progress Illinois:
This report is nothing more than another attempt to tear down the hardworking men and women of our nation's restaurants by a group dedicated to attacking our industry with misinformation while promoting their own agenda.
These are the facts: U.S. Census Bureau data shows that growth in restaurant ownership among minorities and women outpaced growth in the overall industry during the last 10 years on record.
Half of all US restaurants are majority-owned or co-owned by women. Overall, one-third of our nation's restaurant owners are minorities. In addition, we proudly employ more women and minority managers than any other industry: two in five restaurant managers are women; overall, one in three come from a minority background.
The restaurant industry is one of the most diverse industries in America. There is zero barrier to entry and endless pathways to success.