The racist legacy of tipping

The racist legacy of tipping

President Joe Biden said Friday that his plan to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 is unlikely to survive as part of his Covid-19 relief package, thanks to the arcane rules that govern what the Senate will allow in a budget bill. That’s bad news for millions of workers around the country, but especially those who work for tips in the restaurant industry. Civil rights lawyer Michelle Alexander, writing in The New York Times, looks at the racist history of the peculiar American tradition that expects restaurant employees, who are disproportionately Black, brown and female, to work at a fraction of the minimum wage. 

Tipping had originated in Europe as “noblesse oblige,” a practice among aristocrats to show favor to servants. But when the idea came to the United States, restaurant corporations mutated the idea of tips from being bonuses provided by aristocrats to their inferiors to becoming the only source of income for Black workers they did not want to pay. … And in 1938, when Franklin Roosevelt signed the nation’s first minimum wage into law, it excluded restaurant workers, a category that included a disproportionate number of Black people.

A phony ‘war’ on oil
President Joe Biden’s decision to pause oil and gas leasing on federal lands as part of his climate change agenda has gotten Louisiana politicians and their sponsors worked into quite a lather. They charge that Biden’s “war on oil” will kill an economic engine that drives South Louisiana and hurt small businesses in particular. But The Times-Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate columnist Bob Marshall notes that the extraction industry’s promoters vastly overstate its economic footprint in South Louisiana. 

Oil hasn’t been a leading employer in coastal Louisiana for years. The latest figures on coastal parish employment from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows only 15% of coastal residents work in oil and gas, far behind the 51% in tourism and recreation. Indeed, a recent survey showed even coastal restoration – the businesses repairing damage done by oil and gas – now employs 32,000 people compared to only 26,000 in oil and gas. 

In a letter to The Advocate, volunteer activist Angelle Bradford says Louisiana should take a cue from the big energy companies and start looking ahead to a future less dependent on fossil fuels. 

We are still having the wrong conversation. Instead of reframing and reimagining what this state could be, so many of us are being pigeonholed into believing that oil and gas is all we have ever been and all we will ever be. … Oil and gas, petrochemical and utility companies are all looking ahead. If they are not investing in alternative energy in the U.S., they are doing so abroad, while abiding by stricter environmental rules and regulations that do not poison the people who live there.

Spotlight on police reforms
The killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police sparked nationwide calls for police reform, which in Louisiana resulted in the creation of a 25-person task force that has spent the last six months developing detailed recommendations for the Legislature to consider. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports that the group came up with 18 proposed reforms that will likely come up for debate in the two-month lawmaking session that starts in April: 

The proposals include changes to the handling of complaints against police officers, new limits on chokeholds and no-knock warrants, requirements for anti-bias training and reduction of certain legal protections for law enforcement. They would require detailed policies for when body cameras and dash cameras must be turned on by officers who have them and stepped-up minority recruitment efforts for police departments.

Renters on the edge
The January jobs report, released Friday, provides fresh evidence that America’s economic recovery has stalled and many people have given up looking for jobs and are dropping out of the workforce altogether. The economic pain has been felt most acutely by those who were already struggling to get by before the pandemic, and much of this hardship fails to show up in official data on housing and evictions. The New York Times’ Conor Dougherty reports on the rise in housing insecurity, which is forcing many people with low incomes into temporary arrangements. 

One measure of relief came when Mr. Biden extended — by two months — a federal eviction moratorium that was scheduled to expire at the end of January, as states and cities also moved to extend their own eviction moratoriums. In addition, $25 billion in federal rental aid approved in December is set to be distributed. But for every million or so households who are evicted in the United States each year, there are many more millions who move out before they miss a payment, who cut back on food and medicine to make rent, who take up informal housing arrangements that exist outside the traditional landlord-tenant relationship.

Number of the Day
1.2 million – Estimated number of parents, mostly women, who left the workforce between February and October of 2020 (Source: New York Times)