Race Money Now + Beyond

The origins of tipping at American restaurants are rooted in racism

In the United States, it’s a common custom within the service and hospitality industry to tip waged workers. The federal minimum wage for tipped workers in the US is $2.13, compared to the main federal minimum wage which is $7.25, and has remained just short of two dollars for many decades.

People have been critical of the exploitative practice of tipping for years. The critiques mostly surround corporations utilization of tipping to legally get away with paying their workers an unlivable wageEssentially, customers are responsible for paying restaurant worker’s wages through tips.

And although tipping is optional, many Americans view not tipping service workers as rude or unethical due to their low wages. The other spectrum of people’s critiques simply highlights how grossly low and unethical paying individuals $2.13 is.

Restaurant workers are more likely to live below the poverty line than the general population, and that likelihood increases depending on things like race and gender. Activists have been trying to raise the minimum wage for hourly workers for decades. The Raise the Wage Act, which would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, would additionally raise the minimum wage for tipped workers for the first time in almost three decades.

American capitalism makes our economy inherently unethical and predatory.

The stagnation of wages for tipped workers is itself abhorrent and a clear illustration of how predatory capitalism is on lower-income and working-class people. Workers’ wages being reliant upon (optional) tips from customers, rather than a guaranteed right from million or billion-dollar corporations is unethical. However, upon an even deeper examination into the custom of tipping in the US, its history is more corrupt than most know. 

Tipping actually originated in “medieval times as a master-serf custom wherein a servant would receive extra money for having performed superbly well,” Rachel E. Greenspan explains in an article for TIME. In the mid-1800s, wealthy Americans discovered the concept of tipping after travels to Europe and brought the custom to the states in order to seem dignified and well-traveled. 

The custom stuck in the Post Reconstruction Era, after slavery “ended,” as a way to opt-out of paying Black people who were now looking for work. Restaurants would pay Black workers little to nothing and forced them to rely on (optional) tips from white clientele, which “entrenched a unique and often racialized class structure in service jobs, in which [Black] workers must please both customer and employer to earn anything at all,” says Dr William J. Barber II in an article for Politico. Thus, legally continuing the practice of slavery but in a re-imagined way.

The custom was nationally unpopular for a while and only a custom done in the South because many people felt forcing customers to tip was condescending and classist. People thought it cruel to suggest poor people should give an additional amount of money on top of their bill. As a result, some states even made laws against the practice.

Additionally, tipping was thought to be a concept reserved only for Black workers, whereas white workers deserved to be fairly paid for their work. However, as Black people began moving north for economic opportunity and to escape segregationist laws, the custom of tipping followed, becoming the national standard within the US’s restaurant industry.

It’s imperative to know the history behind malpractices deemed as “normal.”

Fast forward to today, conversations (or arguments) surrounding the ethics of tipping at American restaurants occur often on social media between wait staff and restaurant workers and restaurant-goers. I’ve always found these discussions to be futile because the ethics of greedy corporations are never questioned, which in turn produces no real, systemic change for waged workers.

Rev. Dr William J. Barber II further states in his article, “We may live in a very different society from 150 years ago, but the subminimum tipped wage still exacerbates the inequalities passed down from that time.”

American capitalism makes our economy inherently unethical and predatory. So, rather than people regularly arguing amongst each other on whether working-class people are responsible for paying the wages of other working-class people, we should be collectively challenging our government to pay us livable wages.

Although the history of tipping in America is racist, raising the federal minimum wage benefits all working-class people regardless of race. Thankfully, an organization of restaurant industry leaders called Restaurants Advancing Industry Standards in Employment (RAISE) was founded in 2019 to champion living wages, basic benefits, and fair promotion policies for waged workers in the restaurant industry.

In addition, wages for hourly workers reliant on tips are being raised in isolated policies across the states like in Michigan or Washington DC. However, there obviously needs to be a national standard that correlates with the cost of living in America.

With racism being examined so closely this year, it’s imperative to know the history behind malpractices deemed as “normal.” And instead, challenge or dismantle those norms to begin building an economy that equally serves all.

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Tech Now + Beyond

Thanks to expensive education, college students like myself are constantly struggling

Student loans pretty much suck.

They are beneficial because they allow you to afford things like tuition and rent without having to work every second you’re not in class. But in the long run, they are terrible; because though that money feels free now, one day you’ll have to pay it back, and it’s going to be even more expensive when you do. What makes loans even worse is the fact that they have become practically necessary to receive an education.

The student debt crisis as a whole has reached crazy numbers, coming in at over $1.3 million owed by students across the country. I’ve heard people claim that to save money you should just avoid college, or go to trade school, and to be completely honest, those claims infuriate me. Though those paths may work great for others, they’re not the ultimate path for anyone who wants a profitable future that’s debt-free.

I’m not going to write an article about my own experience with student debt. I actually have less of it in comparison to a lot of people my age, simply due to my father’s career, and I feel that I can’t accurately talk for everyone who is struggling with student loans. I also will not be suggesting ways to pay for college that doesn’t require loans. Though there are great ideas in those sorts of conversations, I know that there comes a point where student loans are pretty much necessary to have.

What I want to address here is the face of a country that has created this cycle of debt and destruction (I’m proud of myself for that term) and to basically show that having student debt is not a bad thing or your own fault, it’s the fault of our society.

In 1992, college students paid about $12,434 in debt. In 2012 this had grown to nearly $27,000. 

It’s even higher now.

Why are college prices rising so quickly, leaving students to pay more and more as the years go on? In a world that pushes college at a young age, this isn’t too surprising. I have watched an older person tell a group of elementary students that college is the ultimate goal before. From the moment I entered high school, I was told that I had to go to college and a good one at that. Though I am glad that I did choose to go to a four-year university, this emphasis on trying to get more and more people to go to college can play a large role in increasing prices. College has become more popular, student body populations have risen, schools have become more selective, and costs have grown too. The culture of the United States has become so intensely focused on college that it’s driven the prices up, yet no one is trying to help the students being affected by this price rise.

You see many baby boomers and other prior generations constantly blaming millennials for being in debt. They talk about how they could buy a house by such and such age, and how they worked their way through paying for college, and they act like we are lazy because we can’t afford the same that they could. In the 70’s, students could work a full-time job over the summer and easily pay for their tuition for the semester, simply because though minimum wage was lower, college prices were also significantly lower. Nowadays, it’s impossible to do that. Back then, it cost on average about $700 dollars to pay for a full years tuition at a public university.

Today, it costs almost $10,000 on average for an instate student at a public university. That alone explains how nearly impossible it is to afford a college education without student loans.

Plus, even though at one point minimum wage was about $2 an hour, which is lower than the $10 an hour I make at my school job, if you do the math an entire summer’s worth of 40 hour work weeks would equal $960, more than tuition, while now an entire summer’s worth of 40 hour work weeks comes to about $4,800, which isn’t even half of the tuition of an average in-state student.

College students like myself are struggling. We can’t afford the education that has been instilled in our brains, and we are blamed for choosing that path or for not having enough money to do so without going into debt. I hope I was able to give a small look into the crazy world that is the student debt crisis. I don’t have any facts or figures about how to fix it, however, but I do know one thing.

It’s on our generation to make the world a better place for future ones.

Let’s lower the cost of education, and make it so that our children and grandchildren will be in less debt than we are in. Let’s also not judge them if they can’t afford things, the way older generations judge us. Let’s be considerate and caring and let’s learn from past mistakes and take it on us to end the student debt crisis, whatever way that may happen.