Most of us understand the concept of a living wage. We also know that, despite recent increases, minimum wage isn't really a living wage (unless you're sharing expenses with someone else). We assume that the minimum wage laws that we're familiar with apply to everyone. But, they don't.
Students are exempt, which isn't too problematic for most students since they're frequently living at home, although there are exceptions. Another exempt group is waiters and hotel staff. You'll be amazed at how little they're paid for the amount of work they do.
I was a waitress once back in 1980. My wages at that time were $1.90/hr - just a touch below the minimum wage of $3.10. That was 31 years ago. Regular minimum wages has grown by $6/hr. Has the exempt wage for waitstaff kept up?
Currently, the minimum wage in Pennsylvania for waiters and waitresses is $2.83/hr. That's only $.93/hr more than I was earning 31 years ago. In New Jersey, that wage is $2.13/hr!!! This is because the state allows the employer to figure in tips as part of the employee's wages. They are supposed to ensure that those tips are actually being made before taking taxes out, but I can assure you that this is rarely done. So, even if you aren't receiving over $5/hr in tips, taxes will be taken out of your paycheck on the assumption that you have received enough tips to equal Federal minimum wage standards.
One thing I didn't know until now is that not all states have such an imbalance in wage standards. In California, minimum wage is $8/hr - period! In Alaska, it's $.7.25 (same as Federal minimum). They don't allow employers to assume anything about tips. But, if you think Pennsylvania and New Jersey are bad, take a look at Kansas. Their minimum wage for waitstaff is $1.59/hr!!! Even in Utah, where I received $1.90/hr in 1980, the minimum wage for waiters and waitresses has increased only $.33. OMG!! Are they insane??? Don't they realize that tips are voluntary??? Yet, they aren't required to pay because state legislatures believe that tips are substantial enough to make up the difference. Something is wrong with this picture, don't you think??
I think we should ALL write to our state legislators and demand that all employees be paid the minimum wage, no tip credit allowed. I don't have a problem requiring employees to declare their tips at work so that taxes can properly withheld, but to assume that all employees are receiving enough tips to average $7.25/hr is just plain criminal and unnecessarily takes money away from these hard-working people who are, for the most part, being paid slave wages (for lack of a better term). It's an insult to them and to customers who believe they are tipping, when and if they do, for quality service rather than to help the employer pay the employee's wages. It's just plain wrong!