Rebekah Paxton: Keep Massachusetts tip credit intact



Published: 02-28-2024 5:31 PM

As a Massachusetts native, I’m embarrassed by the half-baked claims made in the recent column, “Subminimum wage is a legacy of slavery: time for one fair wage,” Recorder, Feb. 23]. Contrary to the columnist Carrie Baker’s flawed narrative, neither tipping nor the tipped minimum wage originated from slavery. Historian Kerry Segrave documents first-hand accounts connecting the origins of tipping in 19th-century America to increased travel to Europe. Skepticism of tipping was in fact elevated in markets where racism was more prevalent; UMass Amherst professor Gerald Friedman notes many former slave states in the South outlawed tipping in the early 20th century.

The writer’s attempt to link the current tipped minimum wage to slavery similarly falls flat. Congress codified the tip credit in a 1966 amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act, more than 100 years after the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the United States. The Congressional Research Service explained that the law “[does] not mean that a tipped worker may earn a subminimum wage; rather the tip credit provisions change the composition of a worker’s earnings.”

Congress’ wisdom in creating a tipped minimum wage has been demonstrated in the few markets that foolishly decided to eliminate it. In Washington, D.C., full-service restaurant employment is down over four percent since the district began phasing out its tipped wage. Customers are being squeezed by automatic service charges, and employees are seeing fewer tips and less take-home pay. While the fate of D.C. restaurants is sealed, Massachusetts lawmakers have an opportunity to protect vulnerable restaurants and their employees.

Rebekah Paxton, research director at the Employment Policies Institute

Arlington, Virginia

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