TIME

Living on Tips

LOW WAGES. MINIMAL BENEFITS. UNPREDICTABLE HOURS. FOR MORE AND MORE AMERICANS, THIS IS THE FUTURE OF WORK.
Christina Munce waits tables at Broad Street Diner in Philadelphia, where she’s worked for more than eight years

AFTER AN EIGHT-HOUR SHIFT ON HER feet, shuffling between a stuffy kitchen and the red vinyl booths of Broad Street Diner, Christina Munce is at a standstill in traffic. Still wearing the red polo shirt and black pants required for work at the diner in South Philadelphia, she’s arguing with her colleague Donna Klum. They carpool most days to spare Klum a two-hour commute on public transportation that involves three transfers.

“It’s not O.K. for people not to tip,” Munce says from the driver’s seat, the Philly skyline passing by. Klum believes that bad karma will catch up with non-tippers, but Munce, a single mother who relies on tips to live, doesn’t care much about their fate. “I have to make sure that my daughter has a roof over her head,” she says. The desire for cash over karma is understandable: Munce’s base pay is $2.83 an hour.

The decade-long economic expansion has been a boon to those at the top of the economic ladder. But it left millions of workers behind, particularly the 4.4 million workers who rely on tips to earn a living, fully two-thirds of them women. Even as wages have crept up—if slowly—in other sectors of the economy, the minimum wage for waitresses and other tipped workers hasn’t budged since 1991. Indeed, there is an entirely separate federal minimum wage for those who live on tips. It varies by state from as low as $2.13 (the federal tipped minimum wage) in 17 states including Texas, Nebraska and Virginia, up to $9.35 in Hawaii. In 36 states, the tipped minimum wage is under $5 an hour. Legally, employers are supposed to make up the difference when tips don’t get servers to the minimum wage, but some restaurants don’t track this closely and the law is rarely enforced.

Waitresses are emblematic of the type of job expected to grow most in the American economy in the next decade—low-wage service work with no guaranteed hours or income. Though high-paying service jobs have been growing quickly in recent months, middle-wage jobs are growing more slowly and could

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from TIME

TIME10 min readScience
THE Hottest CITY ON EARTH
IT’S JUST AFTER 7 IN THE MORNING IN THE Pakistani city of Jacobabad, and donkey-cart driver Ahsan Khosoo is already drenched in sweat. For the past two hours, the 24-year-old laborer has been hauling jugs of drinking water to local residences. When t
TIME2 min readScience
Conversation
Behind the cover THREE DECADES AGO, TIME named earth “Planet of the Year” for 1988, featuring a cover by the artist Christo of the earth encased in plastic on a beach in Long Island in New York. For this week’s special-issue cover on climate change,
TIME10 min read
The Women Who Will Save the World
From sinking islands to drought-ridden savannas, women bear an outsize burden of the global-warming crisis, largely because of gender inequalities. In many parts of the world, women hold traditional roles as the primary caregivers in families and com