Restaurant and grocery store workers are now earning over $15 an hour on average

Minimum wage protest
A group of BLM demonstrators protest the Federal Reserve Bank about $15 minimum wage in NYC to solidarity nationwide in Lower Manhattan at the financial district in New York, United States on July 20, 2020 Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
  • For the first time ever, restaurant and grocery workers are earning over $15 an hour on average.
  • That’s according a report from the Washington Post, which found about 80% of workers now make above $15.
  • However, the federal minimum wage of $7.25 hasn’t changed since 2009.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A new report from the Washington Post finds that restaurant and grocery workers are earning, on average, over $15 an hour.

It’s the first time that that’s ever happened, and another sign of wages increasing in a tight labor market that’s seen workers quitting en masse, seeking wage transparency from job postings, and reshuffling into higher paid roles.

Labor activists have long had a $15 wage as a goal, especially in service-sector industries like food service and retail. “Nine years later, we’ve made huge strides, and now we’re seeing wages on the rise for some restaurant and grocery workers,” Jamila Allen, a worker at Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Steakburgers in Durham, North Carolina, and a leader in the Fight for $15 and a Union, said in a statement to Insider.

The following chart shows just how much wages have changed during the pandemic for non-supervisory restaurant and grocery workers:


As seen in the chart, average hourly earnings for supermarket and other grocery store workers have gone up from $14.06 in February 2020 to $15.04 in June 2021, just passing $15. For restaurant workers, average earnings have increased from $13.86 in February 2020 to $15.31 in June 2021, passing the $15 mark in May 2021.

The data comes just months after Democrats failed to pass a $15 minimum wage in President Joe Biden's American Rescue Plan, with eight Democrats voting against the inclusion of the wage hike. The federal minimum wage, which has remained unchanged since 2009, is just $7.25 an hour.

Meanwhile, a slew of businesses have raised their wages to be around - or above - $15 an hour. Most recently, CVS said it will be raising its minimum wage to $15 an hour by July 2022. Those wage raises at big chains don't just impact their own workers: Big business raising wages can also raise pay for workers in the surrounding area, according to a March working paper.

An important distinction, though, is that the average wage doesn't capture all workers. As the Washington Post notes, half of workers in those industries are still making below that figure. And recent research found that a $15 minimum wage still isn't a living wage for many families.

America has a wage growth shortage, not a labor shortage

Experts like Heidi Shierholz, the director of policy at EPI, say that hiring shows the labor is there - so the shortage is more one of wage growth. Shierholz previously told Insider that raising the minimum wage could help solve labor market tightness.

"With major employers like Chipotle and McDonald's and Walmart all raising their wages, that signals that they believe that they're going to face a long-term challenge in attracting workers because they wouldn't be bumping up wages if they didn't believe that this is going to be a long-term issue," Daniel Zhao, senior economist at Glassdoor, told Insider.

Allen said that Fight for $15 and a Union is still "keeping pressure" on the Senate to take action on the federal minimum.

"We're fighting for a society where every worker in every community can thrive, and right now millions of Black and brown workers are being left behind, especially in the Midwest and here in the South."