Who's Earning Minimum Wage? (Hint: Ontarians)

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When it comes to employees earning the minimum wage, Ontario is Canada’s undisputed champion.

Fully 11.6 per cent of all employees earned the province’s minimum wage last year, according to numbers crunched by Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) senior economist Angella MacEwen.

That’s more than twice the share seen in British Columbia, Alberta or Saskatchewan.

minimum wage share

Across Canada overall, there were some 1.25 million people earning the minimum wage, or about 8 per cent of the country’s 15.3 million salaried employees.

“Workers earning minimum wage often struggle to get enough hours, don’t have predictable schedules or advance notice of shifts, and many don’t even have access to unpaid sick days,” MacEwen wrote in a recent blog post.

Ontario has been particularly hard hit. According to a report last year from the left-leaning Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the share of Ontario workers making minimum wage has grown five-fold since 1997.

The report blamed long-term shifts in the province’s economy. Higher-paid, unionized manufacturing jobs have been disappearing for years, with lower-paid, non-union retail and customer service jobs taking their place.

That has led to a rise in “precarious” employment in the province, such as part-time, contract or temp work.

Ontario’s Liberal government has been gradually raising the minimum wage, and at $11.25, it is currently the highest in the country, outside of the territories.

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Minimum Wage Across Canada (2015)
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The Ontario government has also indexed the minimum wage to inflation, which will result in a 15-cent hike to the wage this year.

Rabble notes that, at this pace, it would take until 2040 for Ontario to have a $15 minimum wage.

Quarter of Canadians would get a raise under $15 minimum wage

The campaign to bring in a $15 minimum wage has been gaining some steam in Canada recently, with activists urging Canadian provinces to follow the lead of some U.S. cities and states (such as New York and California) in moving towards the higher minimum wage.

MacEwen analyzed Statistics Canada wage data and concluded that about a quarter of Canadians would see a raise if the $15 minimum wage happened.

But the numbers vary widely from province to province, with a third or more of Atlantic Canadians getting a raise, while less than a fifth of Albertans would see a raise.

low wage share

The debate over whether a minimum wage hike would help or hurt the economy continues unabated.

Think tanks like the right-leaning Fraser Institute argue a minimum wage hike wouldn’t necessarily help the poorest people in society — because nearly 60 per cent of minimum wage earners are youths aged 15 to 24, and almost as large a share lives with family.

The Fraser Institute estimates that a 10-per-cent increase in the minimum wage would reduce youth employment by 3 per cent to 6 per cent.

But MacEwen cites different research concluding that the impact on youth employment from a higher minimum wage “range from insignificant to non-existent.”

“While lots of young workers are employed in low wage jobs, many adults are as well. Besides, young workers deserve a fair wage for their labour too,” she wrote.