If you think the vast majority of Canadians earning minimum wage are teenagers who live at home and work in entry-level jobs, think again.
A new report by the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) challenges popular conceptions about who makes up the minimum wage workforce, concluding that a sizeable number of people over the age of 25 are minimum wage earners who are struggling to support themselves, let alone a family.
“What a lot of people think of when they think of a minimum wage earner is someone starting on their first job, someone who is typically a teenager looking to make some extra money,” said Gwen Suprovich, the report’s author.
“In fact, most minimum wage earners are legal adults. They may be typically younger, in their 20s, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t adults supporting their families.”
Citing Statistics Canada figures, the CLC notes that 6.7 percent of the labour force—more than 1 million people—were working for minimum wage in 2013. Among minimum wage earners, 40 percent are under the age of 20, but a nearly equal figure, 39.6 percent, are over 25.
The report also found that six in ten women are minimum wage workers, which Suprovich attributes to the fact that women are more commonly working in non-unionized workplaces and in turn have lower wages.
Surprisingly, employees of larger companies are also more likely to work for minimum wage, with firms employing more than 500 workers accounting for half of minimum wage earners, according to report.
Back in the late 1970s, the CLC notes, it was possible for minimum wage earners to stay above the low-income threshold. But in the following decades the minimum wage didn’t keep pace with the cost of living, and today a minimum wage earner could be working a full-time job and still be unable to make ends meet.
Although some provinces have made moderate increases to the minimum wage in recent years, it’s still not possible “to support a single person, let alone a child or partner” on the minimum wage, the report says.
“There are people living on these wages and so it is critical that these wages are enough to sustain a lifestyle,” said Suprovich.
“I would hope what people take away from this is that what we generally think of the minimum wage is not always true. There are a lot of Canadians that rely on minimum wage and minimum wage workers are an important part of our economy.”
The CLC urges gradual increases in the minimum wage, noting that the businesses that would be most affected by a minimum wage hike are large companies that often post multimillion-dollar profit margins.
“A transparent process, with gradual and predictable increases in the minimum wage is better for everyone,” says the report.
“[People] should be able to enjoy a certain standard of living; however, full-time employment is no longer a guaranteed escape from poverty. It is time to evaluate what our society deems fair, and compensate minimum wage workers accordingly.”
Across Canada, the minimum wage in B.C. is $10.25, Alberta $10.20, Saskatchewan $10.20, Manitoba $10.70, Ontario $11.00, Quebec $10.35, Newfoundland and Labrador $10.25, P.E.I. $10.35, Nova Scotia $10.40, New Brunswick $10.30, Nunavut $11.00, Northwest Territories $10.00, and Yukon $10.72.
Kaven Baker-Voakes is a freelance reporter based in Ottawa.