GOOD

The Rise of Waiters and the Fall of the Middle Class

The growth of the service industry is just one more sign that the middle class is disappearing.

Do you work in a restaurant? Do you know someone who does? Chances are the answer is yes, because one tenth of the American labor force now works in the food service industry. And the economics of restaurants points to a disheartening trend in the lives of American workers.


Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal released a bevy of hiring numbers, and most of them are pretty grim. But the food service industry is one sector of the economy that's actually growing. It has added more than 216,000 jobs since December 2009. Its job numbers grew 2.1 percent last year, more than twice the national average. More than 9.3 million Americans work in restaurants—about one in every 10 employed. Jonathan Hogstad, national research coordinator of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, estimates that when you account for workers in restaurants categorized in other industries such as amusement parks, performance venues, and sports stadiums, food service employs as many as 10.3 million people.

"Even before the crisis, it's been one of the fastest growing industries," Hogstad told me. "In most cities, restaurants didn't even take a hit during the recession, and if they did, they recovered much more quickly than in other sectors."

More and more people have been eating out over the last few decades for a variety of social reasons, Hogstad says. "Household labor is commodified when women join the workforce," he adds. "More people are working and have less time to cook. Foodie culture has exploded."

But so has fast food. As the Wall Street Journal notes, many quick-serve restaurants that pay piddling wages are hiring at a rapid rate. McDonald's alone added 62,000 jobs on one national hiring day in April. But limited service restaurants like McDonald's aren't the only ones hiring. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4.5 million people work in full-service restaurants, which is 400,000 more people than those who work in limited service. Hogstad says the fine dining industry is thriving.

These twin boosts in the fine dining and fast food industries underscore the widening of the wage gap in the United States. The unique socioeconomics of big cities is the driving force behind the growing gap between rich and poor. So it makes sense that cities, which host more upscale, full-service restaurants than rural areas, still have a steady group of restaurant-goers with money to spend. Big cities also host a higher population of poor and working class people. Tipped employees in those restaurants, like waiters and bussers, are essentially making a commission off the patrons' wealth. But they're not necessarily making much else.

"Back in the '60s, so much of the working class was employed in factories," says Hogstad. "The jobs we've seen taking their place have been service sector jobs that don't have labor protections. Only ten percent of workers get paid sick days and 90 percent don't get health insurance from their employers."

Many people start working in restaurants as a stepping stone to another career—or at least that's their hope. But more and more workers are finding themselves becoming career waiters (and not just ones who work in upscale restaurants, as the term usually connotes).

"Some people love it," says Hogstad. "But the fact is, most of these jobs are replacing work that used to be better."

photo (cc) by Flickr user avlxyz

Articles
Photo by Josh Couch on Unsplash

Christopher Columbus, Alexander Hamilton, William Shakespeare, and Sir Walter Scott are getting company. Statues of the famous men are scattered across Central Park in New York City, along with 19 others. But they'll finally be joined by a few women.

Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Sojourner Truth are the subjects of a new statue that will be on display along The Mall, a walkway that runs through the park from 66th to 72nd street. It will be dedicated in August of next year, which is fittingly the 100-year anniversary of the 19th Amendment that granted women the right to vote.

Currently, just 3% of statues in New York City are dedicated to women. Out of 150 statues of historical figures across the city, only five statues are of historical women, including Joan of Arc, Golda Meir, Gertrude Stein, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Harriet Tubman.

Keep Reading Show less
promo-homepage

It's easy to become calloused to everyday headlines with messages like, "the world is ending" and "everything is going extinct." They're so prevalent, in fact, that the severity of these statements has completely diminished to the point that no one pays them any attention. This environmental negativity (coined "eco-phobia") has led us to believe that all hope is lost for wildlife. But luckily, that isn't the case.

Historically, we have waited until something is near the complete point of collapse, then fought and clawed to bring the species numbers back up. But oftentimes we wait so long that it's too late. Creatures vanish from the Earth altogether. They go extinct. And even though I don't think for a single second that we should downplay the severity of extinction, if we can flip this on its head and show that every once in a while a species we have given up on is actually still out there, hanging on by a thread against all odds, that is a story that deserves to be told. A tragic story of loss becomes one about an animal that deserves a shot at preservation and a message of hope the world deserves to hear.

As a wildlife biologist and tracker who has dedicated his life to the pursuit of animals I believe have been wrongfully deemed extinct, I spend most of my time in super remote corners of the Earth, hoping to find some shred of evidence that these incredible creatures are still out there. And to be frank, I'm pretty damn good at it!

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet

For more than 20 years. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has served the citizens of Maine in the U.S. Senate. For most of that time, she has enjoyed a hard-fought reputation as a moderate Republican who methodically builds bridges and consensus in an era of political polarization. To millions of political observers, she exemplified the best of post-partisan leadership, finding a "third way" through the static of ideological tribalism.

However, all of that has changed since the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Voters in Maine, particularly those who lean left, have run out of patience with Collins and her seeming refusal to stand up to Trump. That frustration peaked with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics
NHM Vienna/Hans Reschreiter

Wealth inequality has been a hot topic of discussion as of late, but it's something that's occurred all throughout history. Class structure is a complicated issue, especially when you consider that haves and have nots have been in existence for over 4,000 years.

A study published in Science took a look at over 100 late Neolithic and early Bronze Age skeletons found in a burial site in southern Germany. The study "shed light on the complexity of social status, inheritance rules, and mobility during the Bronze Age." Partly by looking at their teeth and the artifacts they were buried with, researchers were able to discover that wealth inequality existed almost 4,000 years ago. "Our results reveal that individual households lasting several generations consisted of a high-status core family and unrelated low-status individuals, a social organization accompanied by patrilocality and female exogamy, and the stability of this system over 700 years," the study said.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture
via Truthout.org / Flickr and Dimitri Rodriguez / Flickr

Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign looks to be getting a huge big shot in the arm after it's faced some difficulties over the past few weeks.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading voice in the Democratic parties progressive, Democratic Socialist wing, is expected to endorse Sanders' campaign at the "Bernie's Back" rally in Queens, New York this Saturday.

Fellow member of "the Squad," Ilhan Omar, endorsed him on Wednesday.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics