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Restaurant Workers Struggle to Find Childcare During the Night Shift

Dinner service is more lucrative for everyone, but it’s tough on parents


It’s no secret that paying for childcare weighs heavily on millions of working Americans, but a new report reveals the extent to which it affects the tipped restaurant employees — who often make less than minimum wage and depend upon fluctuating tips to make ends meet — who serve your dinner.

Mothers spend an average of 35 percent of their wages on childcare.

The Restaurant Opportunities Center — a nonprofit with the stated mission of "[improving] wages and working conditions for the nation's 11 million restaurant workers" — studied the cases of 2,000 New York restaurant workers over the past two years to compile its report on the strain of paying for "nightcare," which is what it sounds like: childcare in the evening and sometimes throughout the night.

As restaurant workers who depend on tips know all too well, the dinner shift typically offers much bigger potential earnings than breakfast or lunch. More people dine out at night and larger portions at dinner time mean higher profit margins for everyone. But that means many parents have to seek childcare outside of typical daycare hours to maximize their income.

Unfortunately, nightcare tends to be harder to find and far more expensive. And while childcare for low income workers is subsidized at the state level, approved providers often only offer care during typical office hours, from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. or 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. In 2012 the New York Times reported that some facilities were beginning to offer round-the-clock care, but these businesses are few and far between.

Unsurprisingly, the burden weighs especially heavy on women: More than 1 million single American mothers work in the restaurant industry, and some 40 percent of those live at or below the poverty line (earning about $24,000 or less annually for a family of four). Further, the ROC says these mothers spend on average 35 percent of their weekly wages on childcare. And the stress isn’t just financial: The report says that "Nearly half of mothers have experienced some form of reprimand for arriving late or leaving early due to child care needs."

The ROC suggests that alleviating these problems falls largely to lawmakers: It encourages the elimination of the "subminimum wage" — which is when restaurant workers are paid as little as $2.13 an hour, with tips making up the rest of their earnings — in favor of a higher minimum wage across the board. That would make daytime shifts just as lucrative as night shifts and reduce the need for parents to seek nightcare. (Meanwhile, a growing number of restaurants are eyeing no-tipping policies, which effectively accomplish the same thing.)

The fate of the subminimum wage (or tipped minimum wage, as it’s also referred to) for restaurant workers across the country may depend, at least in part, on the results of the upcoming presidential election: Hillary Clinton has called for a federal minimum wage hike and an end to tipped wages, arguing that America is "the only industrialized country in the world that requires tipped workers to take home their income in tips, instead of wages." Donald Trump, on the other hand, seems to have no interest in raising the minimum wage at the federal level, tipped or otherwise.

Nightcare: The Growing Challenge for Parents on the Late Shift [ROC United]
Obama’s New Overtime Rules Will Give Restaurant Workers Much-Deserved Raises [E]
All Labor Coverage [E]