By Jennifer Ludden
Losia Nyankale, 29, didn’t mean to make a career in the restaurant business. But after two years of college, her schoolteacher mom lost her job and could no longer pay tuition. Then, Nyankale’s temp jobs in bookkeeping dried up in the recession. So she went back to her standby — restaurant work.
“I did some kitchen work. The pantries or the salad station,” she says. “I’ve also managed, supervised, wash dishes.”
These days, after her waitressing shift in a tony Washington, D.C. neighborhood, Nyankale picks up her 5-year-old son from school and her 4-year-old daughter from day care. Then it’s an hour-long trek on the subway and bus to Nyankale’s third-floor walkup apartment. She and the children’s father are separated, and he takes the kids on the weekends.
Nyankale started out in fast food, and joined such workers in a protest march in New York this past spring. The union-backed movement is asking for the right to organize, and for a pay increase to $15 per hour.
Nyankale is actually luckier than many restaurant workers; with tips, she can sometimes make that much. But she has cut back her hours — to 25 a week — to allow time with her children. The only way she can make ends meet now, she says, is through food stamps and subsidies for rent and child care.
Traditionally, the food and restaurant industry has been an entry point for young people, who then move up. But today, according to government figures, the average such employee is 29 years old. And, like Nyankale, nearly a quarter of them are parents.