While a recently-released report details the state’s economic dependence on a strong minimum wage, a bill that would allow employers to pay tipped workers a lower minimum wage than what is currently authorized is moving forward in the state Senate.

According to a report (.pdf) released Wednesday, “[Florida’s] economy depends on a strong minimum wage and higher wages in the lower ends of the wage distribution.” The report, which was issued by the Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy at Florida International University, indicates that the industry for tipped workers is “overwhelmingly” low-wage, and proves “that minimum wage protections are still very important.”

The report adds that “since 2008, wages for Floridian workers in the bottom 20 percent have fallen every year.” According to the report, “poverty levels have steadily been on the rise all across the state and the nation,” despite the fact that ”Florida’s minimum wage is the 12th highest in the country,” and the state has been “pro-active in improving wages for workers and their families.” Florida’s current minimum wage is $7.67 an hour, above the federal minimum wage of $7.25.

“Approximately 256,000 additional low-wage workers indirectly benefitted from the minimum wage adjustment for inflation in 2012,” reads the report, bringing “the total number of workers who benefit from the minimum wage policy to almost 680,000, or about ten percent of the entire labor force.”

Some of the reports’ key findings include:

  • At the beginning of 2012, Florida had close to half a million minimum wage workers, representing about 5.8 percent of the state’s labor force.
  • Women make up 57.2 percent of minimum wage workers, even though they represent only 49.7 percent of the labor force.
  • About 47.7 percent of minimum wage workers are Hispanics or African Americans, even though they make up 35.4 percent of all workers in the state.
  • 27.8 percent of minimum wage workers are Hispanic, while Hispanics make up only 21.3 percent of the labor force.
  • 19.9 percent of all the workers making minimum wages or slightly above are Non-Hispanic blacks, while they make up only 14.1 percent of the labor force.
  • Non-Hispanic Whites make up 61.1 percent of the labor force in Florida, but only 48 percent of them work jobs that pay minimum wages.
  • 89.8 percent of Florida’s minimum wage workers are adults 20 years old and older.

The report also shows that Florida’s Retail Trade, Accommodation and Food Services, and Health Care and Social Assistance industries employ almost 58 percent of all minimum wage workers in Florida. Over 25 percent of those working in accommodation and food services make minimum wage or slightly above.

According to the report, six out of the fourteen occupations projected to add the most job growth to Florida’s economy through 2019 are low-wage occupations. Those six occupations employed over one million workers, or 14 percent of Florida’s total labor force, in 2011 and are “forecast to grow over 13 percent by 2019.”

A bill currently making its way through the state Senate would allow employers to pay tipped workers, waiters, and waitresses, a lower minimum wage than what is currently authorized in Florida.

Last month, State Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, said that the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association first brought the idea for the bill to lawmakers – in an effort to ensure the survival of restaurants hard-hit by the economic downturn.

Labor and community organizations have organized to oppose the bill. Last week, Fight for Florida launched an initiative to involve waiters and waitresses in its campaign against the bill, and South Florida Jobs with Justice, which supports organized labor and workers, organized an event to protest OSI Restaurant Partners, owners of Outback Steakhouse, over the company’s support of the Senate bill.

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