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Leisure and hospitality workers got big raises last year

A possible sign of minimum wage hikes paying off.

Overall compensation for American workers grew at a very modest pace over the past year, but this chart released Tuesday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a huge exception to that: workers in the leisure and hospitality sectors, which primarily include restaurants, with some hotels thrown in.

State-level minimum wage increases, which tend to be particularly influential in those particular sectors of the economy, were quite possibly a big factor here, along with the general tightening of the labor market as the unemployment rate falls. Over time, as more detailed data becomes available, we’ll be able to see more clearly how much the leisure and hospitality wage gains were concentrated in places that enacted minimum wage increases versus being spread throughout the country.

The mere fact that compensation rose so much faster in this one sector than any other part of the economy, however, is a reminder that discussions around “good jobs” can sometimes take an excessively narrow view of things.

Hospitality industry jobs are traditionally seen as “not good” because they are low-paid, but it’s not clear that they are inherently low-paid jobs. Minimum wage regulations, unionization, or even simply a prolonged spell of low unemployment can change the nature of food service jobs, just as manufacturing jobs only became “good” jobs over time due to deliberate effort to make them good.

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