As a gender economist, my question with tipping is not how much—it’s how come? When we look at the data, we find that tipping stymies the economic potential of women and even more disproportionately, women of color. It also hinders the economic prosperity of our entire country.
To add fuel to the fire, the roots of American-style tipping trace back to the legacy of slavery. In the aftermath of the Civil War, tipping allowed employers to pay newly-freed slaves a $0 wage under the premise that customers’ tips would compensate. We call this $0 wage-plus-gratuity a tipped minimum wage. Today, instead of $0 per hour, the federal tipped minimum wage is $2.13 for every hour on the clock.
The tipped minimum wage has been harming women and the US economy—not to mention perpetuating slavery’s legacy—long before COVID-19 hit. Now, with the pandemic amplifying many of society’s inequities, we cannot afford complacency in this arena.