According to a new report "The Third Shift: Child Care Needs and Access for Working Mothers in Restaurants," released today by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, 9to5 and others, female restaurant workers pay penalties for both gender and motherhood. Despite representing one of the largest segments of the U.S. economy and experiencing one of the largest growth rates, the restaurant industry continues to exploit its workers -- particularly women, including mothers. Key findings in the report concluded that working mothers lack access to affordable child care, career mobility and a living wage with benefits.
Women make up over half of the more than ten million workers in the restaurant industry, and two million of them are mothers like Regina Holloway. A single mother of three and 9to5 Atlanta member, Holloway worked as a server at a metro Atlanta Waffle House for several years earning sub-minimum wage. Working an average of 28 hours a week and earning $2.13 an hour, Holloway would bring in a weekly average of $50 in tips totaling her weekly income to $110.
Holloway, like millions of women in the U.S., is the head of her household. According to a 2013 Pew Research Center report, mothers are the sole or primary source of income in 40 percent of households and nearly 30 percent of them are single working mothers. While the number of mother-headed household has risen, public investments in child care have plunged by $2 billion within one year. With Holloway's weekly earnings of $110 and the average cost of child care for those surveyed in this report at $87 a week for their first child or $112 for all children, you can understand how finding affordable child care is a real challenge for women working in this industry.
Holloway, who worked a nonstandard schedule, was fortunate to find informal care from a pool of friends and family members. Many workers don't have access to informal care, and the majority of professional child care centers operate on a standard Monday to Friday daytime schedule (6 a.m.-6 p.m.), yet restaurant workers are just as likely to work nights and weekends. Because Holloway had a network of friends and family, she was able to increase or decrease her child care payments based on how much she earned that day. But paying for child care was always a concern for her. "I tried to do the best I could with what I had, but occasionally I needed to ask for help from my mother and sisters," says Regina Holloway.
Female restaurant workers working full-time, year-round, typically earn 79 cents for every dollar earned by their male co-workers. Women with children pay a wage penalty of approximately 4 percent per child. "I really liked my job because I enjoyed interacting with my customers, but it was a depressing place to work because there was no mobility for me. The male workers always got the best shifts and the most hours," says Holloway.
Another key finding in the report discovered that over 90 percent of mothers surveyed were unable to earn paid sick days. Again Holloway is emblematic of those surveyed. She was forced to take an unpaid day off if she or her kids got sick. Losing a day's pay for taking care of your own health or a loved one undermines working mothers' ability to spend on the basics that helps keep our economy going.
Representing such growth and prosperity, the restaurant industry can afford to provide a higher floor for wages for its workers and their families. And we need policies that can help mothers better manage their work and family responsibilities to ensure their children have the opportunities they need to succeed. We need to raise the minimum wage, establish a minimum standard for earned sick days, and expand access to affordable child care. If we demand and win these basic common-sense protections, the whole economy will flourish.
To read the full report and its recommendations, click here or contact 9to5 through its Job Survival Helpline at (800) 522.0925 for more information.