Every so often, a family member (usually my mom or me) is out with a friend, and the family member argues with the friend about how much of a tip to give when we’re at a restaurant. My mom and I argue for a high tip, while our friends sometimes argue for a significantly lower tip or no tip at all, regardless of the quality of service.
After seeing what minimum wages are for tipped employees in every state, I feel both vindicated and saddened. I feel vindicated that my stance on this topic is such that the higher tips mean higher wages for workers, but also saddened that these workers earn poor wages without tips.
Actually, the term “poor wages” would be a disgraceful understatement of how some tipped workers are paid before tips. Given that numerous states allow employers to pay their tipped workers little (as little as $2.13 an hour, as long as tips cover the difference between their base wage and the federal minimum wage), it’s the tips of consumers that could have a major impact on the economic well-being of people. So for consumers in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and South Carolina, you all had better give generous tips if you feel that the federal minimum wage of $7.25 is too low of a wage for people to earn.
While I just directed my last sentence at the consumers of six states, consumers from the other U.S. states and territories aren’t off the hook. Not by any stretch of the imagination.
I say this because many tipped workers earn below a living wage. The MIT Living Wage Calculator says that the living wage in the United States is $15.12 per hour for a family of four. Waiters and waitresses (a form of tipped work) could earn a wage around or above the 75th percentile without having a living wage (national living wage is $15.12 per hour while the 75th percentile pay for a waiter/waitress is $13.30 per hour). If we want our tipped workers to earn living wages, we need to give them generous tips.
When I bring up these points, some people say that it’s not fair for us, the consumers, to compensate for the fact that tipped workers are given poor wages. While I agree that it’s not fair, the injustice of giving tipped workers a little extra compensation pales in comparison to the injustice that would happen if we all gave low tips, or no tips at all. Even if certain employers don’t pay the kinds of wages they should, it doesn’t excuse us from paying the kinds of tips we should. The ultimate injustice with tipped workers is that the people who serve us would earn so little money that they couldn’t serve themselves and their families.
It’s our choice. Do we want humane and living wages for our tipped workers? If so, it’s time for us, the consumers, to step up our games. And yes, that means I’m going to continue paying my 20%+ tips.
 I should note that this is the national average. The living wage varies widely between states (and even municipalities within states) depending on factors such as cost-of-living. For example, the living wage in New York City for one adult and one child is $30.86 per hour while the living wage for two adults and two children in Boise, Idaho is $15.68 per hour. Source: http://livingwage.mit.edu/articles/19-new-data-calculating-the-living-wage-for-u-s-states-counties-and-metro-areas
 Source: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes353031.htm