New York city is rightly proud of it’s famous eateries. New York food outlets from Food Trucks on the street to, to fast food places like Chipotle and Shake Shack to cheap, fast hole in the wall food outlets to fabulous middle rung restaurants to the world beating fine food restaurants that regularly star in world wide lists of the best on the planet, are unmatched anywhere. There is no place on earth where so many people have such a broad and comprehensive range of cusines to choose from.
And who do you think benefits from this bonanza of great food of all kinds? Well, first up the city as a whole, massively. How many of the 53 million visitors who come here each year will include mention of the food as one of their reasons for coming? New York’s food is famous in the same way as the Statue of Liberty is famous. Sure it’s a moving feast literally, but New York’s constant flow of immigrants has ensured that right from it’s earliest times New York has offered a varied and unique range of food choices which has grown bigger and more spectacular as time has gone on. Think of NYC for a moment without all it’s varied and wonderful food outlets and your mind grinds to a halt, because it is literally unimaginable.
And of course NYC’s food landscape has provided great opportunitites for countless Mom and Pop eating places over the years, opportunities for endless numbers of brave new chefs who put their dreams and their passion on the line and it is a huge source of employment for everyone from chefs down to the food deliverers who turn up at your door with piping hot and delicious food when you can’t be bothered going out for a meal. You will probably be unsurprized to learn that the food industry in NYC is projected to grow at twice the growth for all other NYC industries together over the next 5 years.
There is however a very uncomfortable truth that sits right alongside all the great things that can be said about NYC’s food industry. It pays punishingly low wages wages to a very large percentage of it’s work force. A recent report covering the whole nation reported on the very low wages of food workers of all kinds, the limited opportunities for advancement and how the food workforce is highly skewed along gender and race lines.
How strue is this in NYC? When you look at the NYC statistics, 5.5% of the Labor force is employed in the food industry, including bars. The lowest paid group of workers are food preparation and serving workers, the typical fast food worker, at a median wage of $17,006. The next lowest paid are dishwashers at a median wage of $17,952. Even people at a supervisory level only earn a median wage of $30,818. The highest number of workers in NYC in food are waiters and waitresses whose median wage is $24,926.
The minimum wage for servers is $7.25, the NYC minimum wage, plus a complicated formula about tips. The wage statement for each employee must show the breakdown of wages and tips so I’m assuming the $454 weekly wage of waiters and waitresses includes tips.
These are exceptionally low wages for a singleton in NYC. If a worker has a family it’s hard to know how they cope. In the video a fast food worker refers to having to use foodstamps to survive and that is obviously true when you look at the median wage figures quoted in NYC’s labor statistics.
There are no easy answers because there are so many factors involved but the new proposed minimum wage of $15 an hour would seem like a good start. Sure that would mean some food would become dearer. But surely the issue is that NYC benefits enormously from it’s food industry yet that looks somewhat hollow when you look at the wages being paid to the people who make that industry possible.