About two years ago, Joel Leon, 23, was applying for a server position at a restaurant in Ventura, California. He was proud of his resume—he had previously worked his way up to assistant manager at a fast food restaurant—and he felt good about how the interview went. But as he waited on a bench outside, he heard the white man who interviewed after him get offered the job on the spot, despite being less qualified. “He had little to no experience, and he got the job,” Leon says. “I really needed that job.”
It wasn’t the first time something like this had happened. Leon, whose parents immigrated here from Mexico, moved from working in farm fields alongside his mom as a teen to working in all types of restaurants to help pay the bills. He hoped to snag a front-of-house job like serving because of the better wages and tips. But, “it was really hard for me to get into those positions,” he says. “I’ve only been offered dish washer and busser positions, which is really unfortunate.”
The restaurant industry is one of the largest and fastest growing private-sector employers in the country, and almost half of its workers are people of color. But as the industry continues to grow, its non-white workers continue to be underrepresented in higher paying positions . . .