This is one of three letters to the editor this week
In David Heller’s recent column regarding a new study (See Nov. 14 Times “FSU: Tourism industry pays lowest wages nationwide”), I initially thought that any piece of this length would surely have several remedies listed for the discrepancy after stating the obvious, but there’s only one weak solution offered and it’s based on a flawed assumption.
The assumption is that “the huge gap in pay results in large part because hospitality industry employees are also compensated with tips” and yet “the study did not track wages-plus-tips because there was no tipping data available.” I also could not find data on what percentage of workers are actually tipped and how much they are tipped, but not all workers are tipped and it still doesn’t fully account for their pay to be a less than half the state average income, a paltry $311 a week, according to the study. That comes out to $7.77 per hour, which is 52 cents more than the federal minimum wage but 69 cents less than Florida’s. Whether employees are tipped is not the cause of their low wages; across the country wages in general are low and stagnant.
The sole solution offered to this wage inequity is to “start phasing out the tipping system,” presumably so workers would all be getting the same pay rate, but this would just make accounting easier for studies like this and most likely wouldn’t result in any real gain for workers. What is needed for a more substantive study is to actually find this mysterious “tipping data,” The article then became an examination of the difficulty of implementing a no-tip policy and did not offer data on how it has worked elsewhere to actually raise wages.
There is one solution that would address the wage discrepancy in the hospitality industry that would be immediate, and next fall Floridians will have a chance to vote on a 2020 ballot measure to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour. Approval would also address the wealth and wage gap that is reaching historic levels in the country as a whole, making Florida the eighth state to pass such a raise.
For all the naysayers that either create or unwittingly parrot scary scenarios of economic ruin should this measure pass, there is one argument that washes all their hypothetical rhetoric away: if the federal minimum wage was simply tied to inflation from the time of the apex of the great American middle class, it would already be $15, so clearly there is tangible precedent to show that it is possible. There will be some initial negative consequences, as we have seen from available empirical data, but that same data also shows that in the long run economies do better when people have more money to spend.
In the end, we are a state with a booming tourist industry in the richest country in the world so not only can we do this, we once did, and it’s the moral and practical thing to do. Federally, millions of working poor would be lifted out of poverty and off taxpayer-supported social programs. Many of those involved are children, and right now the national child poverty rate is the shame of the civilized world at 17.5 percent. In Florida that rate is 24.5 percent.
Florida voters have a unique chance to bypass legislatures paralyzed by partisan gridlock and send a message: Americans need a raise.
(Born in Miami, wintering on St George Island)