Rebecca Williams has waited tables, on and off, for 30 years. A lot has changed since her first stint in the business ended in the early 1990s. Restaurants now tout their commitment to local and organic fare. Diners eagerly pass and poke at tapas-style small plates. Chefs at brick-and-mortar restaurants now compete with a growing legion of food trucks. But one thing that’s remained consistent in all that time is Williams’ paycheck.
Williams, 50, has worked mostly at upscale bistros in Atlanta, Ga., earning $2.13 an hour before tips. It’s the most frustrating element of a job she largely enjoys, she says. That miniscule wage is usually swallowed up by taxes, leaving her to live on her tips, which can fluctuate from week to week.
She hasn’t had health care coverage for years. The restaurants she has worked in haven’t offered affordable plans, and she doesn’t have the money to pay out of pocket for it. She simply hopes she doesn’t get sick.
As for retirement? “I can’t even think about retirement,” says Williams. “I’d go into shock.” Her restaurants haven’t offered savings plans, either, leaving her with little beyond a modest 401(k) nest egg from a long-ago foray into the corporate world.
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