Unemployment remains low, and job creation is up, according to the latest employment report. But a closer look reveals that it’s restaurant work — not the coal-mining or manufacturing Donald Trump likes to champion in speeches and on Twitter — that is bolstering the economy. A serious shift away “from making things to serving people” is happening in America, reports the Atlantic.
Economists are still reckoning with the U.S. Labor Department’s latest jobs report, which notes that “employment in food services and drinking places rose by 53,000 in July,” while jobs in mining were “essentially unchanged” during the same time period. According to the Atlantic, restaurant jobs have “accounted for 10 percent of this year’s job growth.” The hospitality industry is expanding faster than every other sector, including healthcare and construction.
As Bloomberg pointed out last week, jobs have been moving from manufacturing to food service for years, but the rate of this shift began to accelerate in 2001 and again after the recession. All major American cities have been impacted, but in some places, including Cleveland and New Orleans, “restaurants are powering the entire economy.” According to the Atlantic, at this rate, by 2020, there will be more cooks and servers than factory workers.
This is a cause for concern for two main reasons. First, mid-level restaurants and chains like Applebee’s and Cheesecake Factory — which are responsible for 50 percent of total job growth in the foodservice sector — are struggling to attract diners, pay their employees fairly, and turn a profit. Second, compared to factory workers, restaurant staffers consistently receive lower wages, fewer benefits, are, in most cases, unable to unionize, and almost never receive parental leave. The average job in the hospitality industry pays around $13 per hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while the average manufacturing job pays $20 per hour.
Factory workers have long had the ability to unionize, which allows them to fight for higher wages and better benefits. But most restaurant workers are unable to form unions, leading them to the streets to demand higher wages in the face of a Republican president, Congress, and Senate that oppose raising the minimum wage. In short, restaurant workers beholden to a fickle industry with tight margins paints a grim future for the fastest-growing segment in today’s economy.