You are here

ROC United Report Reveals Wage Disparities, Lack of Job Protection, Poverty for Millions of U.S. Restaurant Workers During Pandemic

Wednesday, July 21, 2021
Press Contacts:

Anthony Advincula, [email protected]
Lisa Tran, [email protected]

ROC United’s Report Reveals Wage Disparities,
Lack of Job Protection, Poverty that Millions of U.S. Restaurant Workers
Face During the COVID-19 Pandemic

2020 State of the Restaurant Workers Report Released Today, July 21, 2021

NEW YORK — While much recent attention has centered on the mounting labor shortage in the restaurant industry, far less focus is being given to the wage shortage, lack of paid leave and other job protections, and poverty that nearly 13 million restaurant workers — the majority of whom are women, immigrants and people of color — experience during the coronavirus pandemic.

The federal minimum wage has been frozen since it was raised to $7.25 per hour in 2009. Yes, it has been 12 years since it was last raised $0.70 from $6.55, and 30 years since the subminimum wage was raised to $2.13 in 1991. Since then, restaurant workers continue to bear the primary burden of these low wages.

Based on the 2020 State of the Restaurant Workers (SORW) findings, the report — through national, regional, state-by-state, and select metropolitan fact sheets — provides a comprehensive overview of the U.S. restaurant workforce, tracking wages, demographics, poverty, public assistance, and unemployment:

  • The median wage for a restaurant worker in the United States is $11.65 per hour.
  • Latinx workers are the most represented racial/ethnic group in the U.S. restaurant industry
  • Restaurant workers, overall, are more than twice as likely to be in poverty than the general workforce.
  • Across the country, immigrants are 23% (nearly 3 million) of the restaurant workforce. In states like California and New York, immigrants make up almost half of all back-of-house workers.
  • Most restaurant workers continue to work in states with a subminimum wage. About 5 million workers are still being paid the federal subminimum wage of $2.13 an hour.
  • Restaurant workers, who largely remained employed in these $2.13 states with few worker protections, became essential workers in a workforce that was already marked by race and gender inequities during the pandemic.

“This report also marks our commitment to continue fighting for what restaurant workers deserve,” said Dr. Sekou Siby, president and CEO of ROC United. “We need a living wage for low-wage restaurant workers. We need paid leave and child care support, and a safe and healthy working environment in order to revitalize the restaurant industry. Without all these, they contribute to extreme economic and social inequality.”

“Though the federal government failed to track COVID illness and death by occupation, a Massachusetts study found that food preparers and servers were one of the top six occupations suffering fatalities.   Latinx restaurant workers suffered 8x the rate of deaths as white workers,” said Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, co-director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health.

“Today, with the authors of the report, restaurant workers and our national partners, we are truly honored to release the findings of the report, which present updated statistics that illustrate a clear picture of the restaurant workforce during or amid this coronavirus pandemic,” said Dawn Huckelbridge, director of Paid Leave for All.

Read the report here:

Recording of the press conference:

For more information on the SORW and COVID-19 Impact Survey, visit:

# # #