It’s Not a Worker Shortage, It’s a Wage Shortage

Why Illinois Restaurant Workers Are Leaving the Industry, And What Would Make Them Stay

The COVID-19 outbreak has had devastating impacts on the restaurant industry, with 6 million workers and about 90,000 in Illinois losing work temporarily or permanently. Tipped restaurant workers, who are over two-thirds women, reported facing dramatically decreased tips and increased health risks and harassment in restaurants during the pandemic. This report documents the massive exodus of workers from restaurants, their reasons for leaving, and what would make them stay.

The pandemic has had devastating impacts for women and mothers in particular, with many economists dubbing the crisis a “she-cession.”3 Even prior to the pandemic, working mothers already bore the brunt of domestic duties and were heavily concentrated in low wage jobs.4,5 As one of the largest employers of women and one of the largest employers of subminimum wage workers, the restaurant industry plays an outsized role in perpetuating inequality among women, particularly women of color. Not only must these women endure one the lowest wages in the country, but also experience higher levels of sexual harassment than any other industry in the country. This report documents workers’ experiences of the pandemic, and also how it has motivated many of them to leave the restaurant industry altogether.


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