Minimum wage fail

Premier Wynne's minimum wage law does a pretty bad job of helping the least well off in Ontario.

(This column originally appeared in the Toronto Sun)

By: Candice Malcolm

For the third time in three years, Ontario will increase its minimum wage this year. By the end of 2015, minimum wage earners will pull in $11.25 per hour, or $10.30 for students under the age of 18.

These hikes are a favourite from the Ontario Liberal playbook. This is the ninth time minimum wage has been increased since the Liberals took office in 2003. And thanks to Premier Kathleen Wynne – who calls herself the “social justice Premier” – it will happen even more frequently.

Premier Wynne created legislation to mandate an inflation-adjusted minimum wage hike each year.

But before we celebrate the end of poverty in Ontario, let’s back up and ask a few basic questions, for instance: who actually earns minimum wage? Most imagine a single mother, running between part-time jobs while struggling to pay her bills and keep her kids out of trouble.

But the stats paint a different picture altogether.

According to the Government of Ontario’s 2014 Minimum Wage Advisory Panel, the vast majority of minimum wage earners are not the primary wage earners in their household. Nearly two-thirds (62%) are young workers between the age of 15 and 24, and more than half (56%) live at home with their parents. Another 17% have working spouses and therefore have a much higher household income.

In fact, only one in eight minimum wage earners lives in poverty, and only one in 50 is a single parent.

Minimum wage is supposed to help the poor, but instead, it targets mostly young workers and those with working spouses. But does it actually bring people out of poverty?

According to Stats Canada data, between 2006 and 2012, the minimum wage increased by 16% across Canada; meanwhile, the percentage of low-income Canadians fell by less than 0.5% during that time.

Minimum wage does a pretty bad job at helping the poor.

Rather than reducing poverty, these laws actually make it more difficult for many to find a job and keep steady hours. Inflated wages cause entry-level jobs to become more competitive, making it particularly difficult for low-skilled and inexperienced workers.

How will a high school grad qualify for a job when his or her resume is stacked up against a bunch of college grads looking for work at the same rate?

About a decade ago, when I was a teenager living at home with my parents, I got a summer job at a fish-and-chips stand in Vancouver. My starting wage was $6 per hour, and I was barely worth that. I didn’t have experience or bankable skills.

That is how young workers gain experience. They start at the bottom and work their way up. A paycheque is important, but on-the-job training is just as valuable.

Unfortunately as the minimum wage rises, so too does youth unemployment. Fewer employers are willing to take a risk on these new workers.

In the social justice paradise of Ontario, teenagers that can find a job will earn nearly double what I was paid. But many others will be left out and excluded from gaining that valuable work experience.

Premier Wynne tells us that the minimum wage law will help the least well off in Ontario. The math tells us otherwise.

If only we could implement some kind of minimum math requirements for politicians.