Low-Wage Restaurant Workers Struggle to Provide Nightcare for Children
On Wednesday, Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United is publishing “NIGHTCARE: The Growing Challenge for Parents on the Late Shift,” the most comprehensive examination to date of the childcare needs of America’s restaurant workers. Drawing from outreach and case management with over 2,000 restaurant workers in New York over the past two years, as well as a previous ROC United report—“The Third Shift: Child Care Needs and Access for Working Mothers in Restaurants,” NIGHTCARE offers a vivid picture of the unique hardships faced by restaurant workers, specifically tipped workers striving to support a family on the separate, lower subminimum wage.
ROC’s research demonstrates that, with the continued growth of the restaurant industry, an increasing number of low-wage workers must work in the evening or at night, and thus depend on childcare after regular business hours, otherwise known as “nightcare.” The tipped minimum wage—an abysmal $2.13 per hour at the federal level—exacerbates this problem by forcing tipped restaurant workers toward evening and weekend shifts where the earning potential for tips is highest. However, nightcare is often inaccessible for restaurant workers, either due to location or cost, causing tremendous strain on workers and their families.
ROC United Co-Founder/Co-Director, Saru Jayaraman says, "Living off tips force unique and incredible hardship on the lives of tipped workers, the lionshare of whom are women and people of color. A whopping nineteen percent of restaurant workers live in poverty in New York State, and nearly half (48 percent) live at or below the poverty line. Among single moms the rates are higher, with 35 percent living in poverty, and 70 percent living at or below the poverty line. For them, evening shifts, and thus nightcare, are essential to make ends meet.” She continues, "A dependable wage for all workers, regardless of shift, would reduce the premium parents who are tipped workers place on those late shifts where tips are highest."
Key findings include:
A growing number of low-wage workers depend on nightcare for their children that is affordable and in their neighborhood. Tipped workers are oftentimes uniquely dependent on nightcare, since they earn as low as $2.13 per hour and must vie for the highest earning shifts at night and on weekends, when tips are highest, in order to maximize their income.
Nightcare is largely inaccessible through licensed providers, forcing workers to depend on informal and underground networks to provide for their children. There are few licensed nightcare providers, and limited efforts to assist with licensing or expansion of coverage.
The lack of affordable nightcare in one’s neighborhood has led many restaurant workers to supplement their income or switch their occupation and engage in child care work, in particular during their children’s early years.
In the absence of accessible licensed nightcare, unlicensed providers that specialize in nightcare for low-wage workers like restaurant workers and security guards have grown in number.
Possible solutions include:
Policymakers should respond to the growing need for nightcare by increasing the provision of affordable nightcare and ensuring it is accessible in workers’ neighborhoods
Policymakers should support programmatic interventions allowing the restaurant industry to ‘grow our own,’ and draw upon restaurant workers’ child care experience to help license restaurant workers as nightcare providers focused on the restaurant industry, expand existing nightcare providers, and help license existing unlicensed providers.
Policymakers should follow the lead of high road employers and eliminate the subminimum wage and raise the minimum wage, thereby reducing demand for nightcare in the restaurant industry by making daytime shifts as lucrative as nighttime positions.