You know, there’s nothing I love more than having to decide whether to pay rent or to eat food for another week. And if you’ve lived most of your life in minimum wage/middle-class Hell like I have, then I’m sure this is a choice you’ve also had to make a time or two as well.

But how did we get here? How did we go from a thriving middle class—one where a single income could afford a house, spouse, car, and two kids—to one in which people often have to choose between buying food or securing shelter?

Though there are a few systemic causes for this massive economic crush (more on that in a minute), it seems that for hospitality workers specifically, 2024 is about to get worse. In an attempt to keep everything running “business as usual,” restaurant leadership has decided to “lend a hand” to these struggling families by manipulating minimum wage to keep their employees poor.

Enter the Colorado Restaurant Association (CRA).

Earlier this year, legislation was introduced that would allow for an increase to the state minimum wage paid to those who work in the restaurant industry for tips. Tipped workers’ minimum wage is $11.40 with a tip credit of $3.02. When added to their base salary—something the business isn’t required to do—the tip credit brings the overall pay to match what the regular minimum wage is for other restaurant employees.

Currently, Colorado municipalities have the ability to increase the minimum wage for restaurant workers EXCEPT tipped employees. The bill would give municipalities the option on whether to raise the wage for tipped workers.

The ink wasn’t even dry on the bill before the CRA came out guns-a-blazin’ against its very existence. To them, there was nothing redeemable about the piece of legislation. With such opposition, you may be asking yourself, “What was in the bill that made them hate it so much?”

Well, nobody knew … and that was the problem.

The main issue the CRA had with the bill was the fact that they weren’t brought in to help write it. They felt that because of how powerful they are in the restaurant industry, to not include them in drafting legislation that would impact ALL businesses in the state was somehow sacrilege. “This is about the worst thing you can do to the industry, and they would have learned that if they would have talked to us or if they talked to any restaurant owners or people that worked in restaurants,” said Colin Larson, director of government affairs for the Colorado Restaurant Association.

Also, during the same interview, Larson claimed tipped workers made enough when he referenced a 2022 study that claimed tip-based employees in Colorado actually make $37 an hour. Of course, he failed to mention that the study he’s referencing only took into consideration those who drive for Uber and didn’t include anyone in the restaurant business.

With that said, even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and I do believe there’s another reason why Larson mentioned the study in the first place. If you look at the frequency and amounts that minimum wage was raised during the 1940s, 50s, 60s, and 70s—you know, back during a time when many Americans felt our nation was “great”—around $30 an hour in 2024 sounds about right.

When you look at the raw numbers, you quickly realize that when it was first introduced, minimum wage was intended to be a living wage; the bare minimum needed to sustain life. Per the Department of Labor, between 1945 and 1975 minimum wage was raised 13 times for a 425% increase ($.40-$2.10). Again, this was when the middle class was thriving and you could afford a spouse, house, two kids, and a car on one income.

By contrast, during the same amount of time between 1991 and 2021, minimum wage was raised five times for a 70% increase ($4.25-$7.25). For the middle class, our raises (on a federal level) have come grinding to a halt this century. So yeah, $30 an hour being necessary to sustain life in a city ranging in size from mid-level to major metropolis isn’t too bat-shit crazy of an idea to conceive.

As a side note, now that you’ve read this information, you’ll know that if anyone ever tells you minimum wage was never meant to be a living one, they are lying to you. Also, if they say that minimum wage was only “meant for teenagers or young adults beginning their lives,” they’re not only lying to you, but they’re also insulting your intelligence. There is no way that a 425% economic increase would be necessary to keep up with the prices of records and comic books in the 1950s and 60s.

Thankfully there was one name absent from the list of restaurants who got their panties in a bunch when it came to increasing the minimum wage of tip-based employees: Casa Bonita.

Casa Bonita had already embraced the concept of paying their service staff a living wage—$30 an hour for servers and bartenders—when they found it to be the most viable option during their “soft opening” phase. The numbers reflected the ability to implement a business strategy that would forego the need for their customers to pay anything above and beyond their initial purchase.

Sadly, with the response of the Colorado Restaurant Association, it seems like Casa Bonita may be the only restaurant that will ever figure this out willingly.

We need creative solutions for the minimum wage conundrum. Whether we require businesses to use the template provided by Casa Bonita to get employees to a higher wage (or face penalties), or we figure out a way to re-route the millions of dollars giant corporations/restaurants are getting in tax breaks to local businesses that pay a living wage, something needs to be done.

I think the best example of our financially crippled middle class comes from a recent article I read in Fortune magazine. In it, they spoke to Nikki Cimino, a 40-year-old recruiter living in Denver about her financial realities. She said, “I’m making the most money I’ve ever made, and I’m still living paycheck to paycheck. There’s this wild disconnect between what people are experiencing and what economists are experiencing.”

If a recruiter in Denver—a job whose median income is around $72,000 a year—is struggling to make ends meet, then how does someone making even the enormous amount of $20 an hour stand a chance?