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Chicago Hospitality Jobs Get Evaluated

Posted on February 10, 2010

Chicago hospitality jobs suffered a blow today when a new report on the restaurant industry revealed the minimum wage most of these workers in Chicago receive.

According to the report, more than 80 percent of the cooks, servers, hosts, busboys and bartenders in the Chicago metropolitan area make less than $10 an hour.

The report, entitled, “Behind the Kitchen Door,” was compiled by the Chicagoland Restaurant Industry Coalition, a group of academics, workers rights advocates, unions, and restaurant owners and employees. The findings are based on 582 worker surveys, plus interviews with restaurant workers and employers in Cook County, conducted between Sept. 2008 and May 2009.

The authors of the report said the study was inspired by the need for examination and analysis of the overall health of the restaurant industry, which is fundamental to Chicago’s economy and critical to the lives of thousands of restaurant workers and employers.

The restaurant industry is an important and growing source of locally based jobs, and provides considerable opportunity for the development of successful businesses. It is therefore essential to make information about the industry from the perspectives of both workers and employers available to all stakeholders to ensure the industry’s sustainable growth.

The report also describs that the industry’s most important contribution to the region’s economy is the thousands of job opportunities and career options it provides. In 2008, the gross domestic product by metropolitan area from the accommodations and food services sector was $12.7 billion.

Since 1995, employment growth in the food services sector has outpaced that of the Chicago region overall. Restaurants employ almost 140,000 workers in Cook County alone and almost 250,000 workers in Chicagoland – 6.8% of the region’s total employment.

The report also depicts that while there are a few “good” restaurant jobs in the restaurant industry, and opportunities to earn a living wage, the majority are “bad jobs,” characterized by very low wages, few benefits, and limited opportunities for upward mobility or increased income.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median wage for restaurant workers is only $8.86, compared to a median wage of $17.28 for all workers in Chicago.

In their own survey of restaurant workers, the vast majority (90.5%) reported that they do not have health insurance through their employers (see further Chapter III: Workers’ Perspectives). Earnings in the restaurant industry have also lagged behind that of the entire private sector. In terms of annual earnings, restaurant workers on average made only $17,844 in 2008 compared to $55,409 for the total private sector.