Memorial Day traditionally marks the start of summer fun and travel—for those who can afford it. Those who can’t include hotel housekeepers, who like many U.S. workers over the past three decades have seen the standard features of a middle-class lifestyle grow even farther out of reach while productivity has more than doubled. For instance, hotel housekeepers’ pay has not kept up with the price of a hotel room. In the 1960s and 1970s, a housekeeper could afford a hotel room with her day’s wages; by 2012 her wages only covered 78 percent of the average cost ($83/$106).
Hotel housekeepers, many of whom are women of color and immigrants, typically clean 15 rooms and bathrooms a day and suffer high injury rates. Though they are paid somewhat more than the $7.25/hour minimum—the average (mean) hourly rate was $10.33 in 2012—like many low-paid workers their pay has been indirectly affected by the erosion of the real value of the minimum wage. In inflation-adjusted terms (not shown), housekeepers’ pay has barely budged since the late 1970s. Unionized workers in the industry are paid 24 percent more on average than non-unionized workers and enjoy employee benefits and other components of a middle-class lifestyle.