2006.07.31: July 31, 2006: Headlines: COS - Samoa: Journalism: Minimum Wage: Greenville Online: Samoa RPCV Clare Trapasso writes: Getting by on minimum wage these days is almost impossible, even under good conditions

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Samoa: Peace Corps Samoa : The Peace Corps in Samoa: 2006.07.31: July 31, 2006: Headlines: COS - Samoa: Journalism: Minimum Wage: Greenville Online: Samoa RPCV Clare Trapasso writes: Getting by on minimum wage these days is almost impossible, even under good conditions

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Samoa RPCV Clare Trapasso writes: Getting by on minimum wage these days is almost impossible, even under good conditions

Samoa RPCV Clare Trapasso writes: Getting by on minimum wage these days is almost impossible, even under good conditions

"What I found in the food service industry reminded me of a book written by author Barbara Ehrenreich. Ehrenreich, a Ph.D. and award-winning journalist, traveled across America working the most menial jobs to see if she could afford basic human necessities (i.e. shelter, food, transportation, etc.) on her minuscule salaries. She documented her experiences in her New York Times bestseller "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America." She concluded that it was nearly impossible to solely support oneself on the minimum wage."

Samoa RPCV Clare Trapasso writes: Getting by on minimum wage these days is almost impossible, even under good conditions

Food service employees not well served by salaries
Getting by on minimum wage these days is almost impossible, even under good conditions.

Published: Monday, July 31, 2006 - 6:00 am


By Clare Trapasso

"Hi. My name is Clare, and I'll be your server tonight." For several weeks I repeated this phrase with a smile at a popular Greenville restaurant. In the pursuit of making a few bucks, my aching feet would circle the restaurant cleaning tables and delivering plates of hot food to hungry customers. Unfortunately, that was all I made: a few bucks.

I recently returned to the Upstate after several years of working abroad. With plans to move to New York City in August, the prospect of paying for an apartment in one of the most expensive cities in the nation was nothing short of terrifying. So in order to make some extra money I applied for a job waiting tables. The hiring manager assured me I would make good tips, and after purchasing a uniform and undergoing an orientation, four tests (on which I had to score a 90 percent or higher), and five days of training, I was officially a server.

What I found in the food service industry reminded me of a book written by author Barbara Ehrenreich. Ehrenreich, a Ph.D. and award-winning journalist, traveled across America working the most menial jobs to see if she could afford basic human necessities (i.e. shelter, food, transportation, etc.) on her minuscule salaries. She documented her experiences in her New York Times bestseller "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America." She concluded that it was nearly impossible to solely support oneself on the minimum wage.

Many of my co-workers would be able to relate. They were a mix of recent high school and college graduates (one even had a master's degree), parents and students. Some lived with their parents or significant others and had second or even third jobs, while others paid for their apartments, cars and meals from the tips they earned at the restaurant. Since summer is the time that many Greenvillians go on vacation and barbecue and picnic instead of eating out, it translates into slowed business at many Upstate restaurants. Many of my co-workers felt the heat in the form of a significant pay cut -- one they were not too pleased about.

Servers are only paid $2.13 an hour. This is expected to compensate them for the additional duties they perform in a restaurant. As a waitress I carried heavy glass racks, cleaned tables, made tea, filled condiments, sorted silverware and performed a host of other duties vital to keep a restaurant in business. The rest of my money came from customer tips. Some nights I did extremely well; on other nights I barely made minimum wage.

With gas prices skyrocketing and the cost of living steadily rising (although the minimum wage has stayed static), 15 percent no longer seems to be an adequate tip. I met a young waitress who broke down for me exactly how her salary just barely covered her rent, utilities and cell phone bill. When I asked her how she paid for food, gas and entertainment -- she just looked at me and shrugged. I met an older greeter who was unable to afford the treatments her doctor had prescribed for her without health insurance. And they are not alone.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2004 there were 779 food services and drinking places within Greenville city limits and 15,281 individuals working within them. When I asked those hardest hit by reduced summer business (and generally the most dissatisfied) why they didn't find another job, several of them informed me they were already looking. In a less-than-stellar economy, when an individual is exhausted from long hours on his or her feet and worn down by the occasional verbal abuse from customers (and sometimes even management), a new job search can seem daunting. The attitude was simple: It's not going to be any better anywhere else. And for whatever reason, many of my co-workers needed the reference and flexible hours.

So the next time you take your family out to eat, or enjoy a few drinks with friends, please remember that while your servers may be smiling and cracking jokes with you, they may be hoping you tip them enough to pay for their children's school supplies or make their next car or rent payment. So please tip accordingly.





When this story was posted in August 2006, this was on the front page of PCOL:


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