Mother Jones’ Andrea Guzman Misleads about Tipped-Workers, Poverty Rate

  • Tipped-workers DO NOT make $2.19 per hour. By law, employers must compensate tipped-workers if tips do not add to at least minimum wage. 
  • Mother Jones reporter leaves out context and makes it seem that tipped-workers 
  • The biggest flaw in the article is the reporter’s lack of research and bias, which causes her to falsely suggest that tipped workers often make sub-minimum wage. 

OUR RATING = Major Negligence. MSNBC-level basic journalistic negligence

Indicted Outlet: Andrea Guzman | Mother Jones | Link | Archive 

Failing to understand tipped-wages, the Mother Jones reporter relies on bias rather than research to inform her article. Accurate knowledge of one’s subject is fundamental in a profession that consists entirely of conveying truthful and clear information. Guzman either does not understand how tipped-wages work, or willfully misleads her readers through deceptive rhetoric and lack of context. 

Guzman’s article implies that 1) Tipped-workers often receive a sub-minimum wage of $2.19 and that 2) tipped-wages keep workers in poverty. In reality, employers are required by law to compensate any tipped-worker who receives less than minimum wage in a shift so that the worker receives at least minimum wage for every shift. Tipped-workers receive minimum wage and have the opportunity to exceed minimum wage. Therefore, full-time tipped-workers are not more likely, but, rather, less likely to live in poverty than full-time minimum wage workers, according to a 2021 study by the Employment Policies Institute. [1] Guzman’s reporting is not only false but seems intentionally deceptive. At best she does not understand the tipped-wage policy. At worst, she intentionally obscures the full context of tipped-wages from readers to make them believe it is an unjust and racist policy that keeps the women and minorities in poverty. 

Major Violations

  • Premature conclusions  
  • Missing context 
  • Misusing words 

Guzman’s first deception lies in her headline and subhead.

A Racist Policy Keeps Many Restaurant Workers in Poverty. Will Biden End It? Eliminating the sub-minimum wage could ease the race and gender pay gap.

Firstly, Guzman calls tipped-wages “sub-minimum wage” at the outset. This is an equivocation and she uses the wrong terminology. A sub-minimum Wage, according to the The Department of Labor, can be paid to people with disabilities, student workers, and homeworkers in certain scenarios.[2] Tipped-wages are NOT sub-minimum wages nor are they called sub-minimum wages by the Department of Labor. 

But Guzman calls them sub-minimum wages. Why is this? Her improper terminology reveals her implicit bias and unwillingness to investigate the subject of her article. 

Not only does she use the wrong name — and an implicitly biased name — to describe tipped-wages, she never provides the context in the article that employers must pay the difference to ensure that workers receive at least minimum wage. 

In her lead, Guzman suggests some tipped-workers make as little as $2.13 per hour. 

Then she goes on: 

“Some states allow employers to pay tipped workers a subminimum wage (also called a tipped minimum wage), assuming they can make up the rest of their pay in tips.” 

“Assuming they can make up the rest of their pay in tips,” is the closest Guzman comes in the entire article to explaining that employers are required by law to compensate their tipped-workers to reach minimum wage. Nowhere in the headline, subhead, lead, or anywhere else in the article does she note the law requiring employers ensure their staff reach minimum wage. She allows her readers, rather, to believe that some states allow employers to pay their employees only $2.13. 

It is true that Restaurant Opportunities Center United — which Guzman cites — found that 84% of restaurant owners made some kind of error in calculating payment.[3] Firstly, ROCU fails to provide any source for that information, which alone is dubious. Secondly, this is a completely different issue than the one Guzman reports on: employers sometimes break the law, but the law does exist. Guzman does not explain this, of course, because that requires admitting that this law exists in the first place and ruins her narrative of victimization. Because she neglects to explain this, Guzman’s article suggests that every single restaurant owner in a tipped-wage state allows his employees to live in poverty at a cruel rate of only $2.13 per hour. This is not only a lie but libelous and damaging. 

Guzman’s second premature conclusion leads to another false claim: 

In practice, this policy has caused tipped restaurant workers to be twice as likely as the general workforce to live in poverty. 

She cites a One Fair Wage study, which says states that eliminated tipped-wages and implemented One Fair Wage lowered poverty rates and eliminated the gap between white men and black women. [4] 

However, One Fair Wage bears a misleading name. One Fair Wage states not only eliminated tipped minimum wage (which they also incorrectly call sub-minimum wage) to create “one fair wage,” but did so in conjunction with a general raise in minimum wage. For example, in California the OFW ended tipped-wages, but at the same time incrementally raised the minimum wage from $10 to $15. Thus, the poverty rate lowered not necessarily because of the “one fair wage,” but at least in part because of the rise in minimum wage! Guzman’s failure to provide this context and ONF’s misleading name leads readers to false conclusions. 

In the seven other states Guzman mentioned, tipped-wages were eliminated in conjunction with a minimum wage hike. Of course workers in a state with a $13 minimum wage will make more money than workers in a state like Texas, with a $7.25 wage. However, this is not caused by tipped-wages. It is caused by differences in minimum wage. A tipped-worker makes the same amount a minimum wage worker does, and that wage depends on state law. But because Guzman has implied that tipped-workers are not reimbursed by employers to reach minimum wage, however, it seems states that refuse to end tipped-wages actually allow workers to make only $2.13, with no reimbursement. 

In reality, then, a recent 10-year study published in 2021 by the Employment Policies Institute found that tipped-workers are actually less likely to live in poverty than other hourly workers. Another study by the U.S. Census Bureau found that when employers paid tipped-workers a higher base salary, tips decreased by an equivalent percentage. 

Tipped-wages actually provide the opportunity for minimum wage workers to exceed minimum wage when working for tips. It allows employers, commonly restaurant owners, to recoup greater profit, and it simultaneously allows workers to exceed the basic income of their fellow minimum wage workers. 

Tipped-minimum wage furnishes no risk — it does not legally allow a worker to make less than minimum wage. And it offers significant benefits to employees and employers alike. 


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