I have lived in this city for most of my life; I grew up here, I go to school here, I volunteer in my community, and I have worked in the restaurant industry for 21 years. I have seen this city grow and its restaurants become bigger, more popular, and more profitable, but, as a server, my employer has never paid me a decent wage. I work in the top of my field and I still only make $3.75 an hour.
Living in this city and raising my son here, I have seen another startling trend; as businesses grow and wages stay stagnant, our communities and children suffer. Food insecurity is a major problem in this city. When 1 in 2 school age children in Portland are food insecure, when the Mayor convenes a task force to address food access in the city, when I had to start a food pantry at Reiche school so that my son’s classmates can go home on the weekends and still get a decent meal it’s hard not to see how one corresponds to the other. When parents living and working in this city can’t make enough to cover their barest necessities, how can they be expected to stretch those few dollars further to feed their children. I am fortunate to have support from my parents—without them my childcare costs would be more than doubled from $600 a month to over $1200—but how is it acceptable that I need to rely on the kindness of others to get by? That’s what the lower minimum wage for tipped workers is; you have to rely on the kindness of strangers to pay your rent and feed your children. Despite working full time putting food on the tables in my restaurant, I, and many women working for tips in this state, struggle to put food on our own tables. And when your wage is totally unreliable, you can never save, you can never anticipate what you’ll make, you can never spend a little extra this week knowing that you’ll make it up with the next paycheck. We have no choice, though; our employers will never pay us any more than they are mandated despite the fact that in the seven states where there is no lower tipped minimum wage restaurant employment rates are higher, turnover rates are lower, and tips are the same if not better than in states with a tipped wage. It’s time our employers and restaurant owners invest more in us. We are the human capital, we are the ones driving profits, we are the faces of our restaurants, and we deserve one fair wage.