Sound Progress

Research and insights from Puget Sound Sage.

New Study: Who are Seattle’s Tipped Workers?

The $15-an-hour minimum wage in Seattle has been focused on a debate over tipped workers, who according to our analysis, comprise of less than 10% of workers who earn below $15 an hour.

In this policy brief, we shine a spotlight on all tipped workers in Seattle, so that city elected officials can focus on practical solutions for raising the minimum wage, instead of relying on speculation about who tipped workers are and what incomes they earn. To inform our research, we combined an analysis of government data with interviews of workers in various tipped professions. Our analysis demonstrates that the average tipped worker in Seattle is roughly 32 years old, has at least some level of college education, and earns less than $15 an hour – even if you include tips in their hourly earnings.


Tipped workers generally earn below $15 an hour, including tips. Although there has been much attention paid to a few high-earning, tipped restaurant workers, this group is not representative of the tipped workforce in general.


  • Tipped employees are more likely to earn low wages: the average annual pay for waiters and waitresses in the City of Seattle is $22,620 per year. Waiters and Waitresses make up 61% of Seattle’s tipped workers.
  • Tipped workers are disproportionately women: 59% of tipped workers are women, even though women comprise of only 46% of Seattle’s workforce.
  • Tip credit encourages wage theft: Nationwide, full-service restaurants were found non-compliant in 84% of Department of Labor Wage and Hour Investigations.

New Study: $15 Minimum Wage – Single Best Option to Reduce Seattle’s Gender and Race Pay Gap

A new study by Puget Sound Sage concludes that a $15 minimum wage would create large scale benefits for women and people of color in Seattle, and effectively narrow our city’s gender and race pay gaps.  In a policy brief released today, Puget Sound Sage examines the potential outcomes of a $15 minimum wage on the local economy, assesses outcomes by industry sector, and demonstrates that a $15 minimum wage (with a phase-in only approach) is the single best option to reduce Seattle’s gender and race pay gap.

 Key findings from the policy brief include:

  • $526 million dollars will be added to the paychecks of Seattle’s lowest wage workers: a wage increase that is significant for low-income families trying to make ends meet, but represents only 1.7% of Seattle employers’ total payroll costs. 
  • This infusion of new earnings will result in worker spending and re-spending, creating a total ripple effect of $625 million dollars to the regional economy.
  •  Women and people of color living in Seattle currently earn between 44% and 71% of what white men earn.
  • The over-representation of women and people of color in low-wage industries, such as food services, likely explains much of this pay gap.
  • Raising the minimum wage is the fastest and most targeted policy option to narrow the gender and race pay gap.

The brief concludes that well-crafted, phased-in increase in the minimum wage can support a thriving economy.

You can find the full report on our website