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A portrait of minimum wage workers in Ontario

In order to help combat the increasing wage gap in Ontario, the Wellesley Institute is joining in calls for a $4 increase in the minimum wage.

We've heard it for years, both anecdotally and through a growing body of research: the middle class is shrinking and the gap between rich and poor widening.

A new study
just released by the Wellesley Institute explores one particular element of this development: the status of minimum wage workers in Ontario.

The study is animated by two key ideas, says its author, Sheila Block. "One is that the minimum wage is just for kids…however, 40 per cent [of minimum wage workers are over the age of 25."

The second, she says, is that "minimum wage work isn't distributed equally." There are some demographic groups with a much higher proportion of minimum wage work than others—specifically women, young workers, racialized workers, and recent immigrants (defined as those here less than 10 years). Crucially, this state of affairs is worsening: the proportion of Ontario employees earning the minimum wage has more than doubled in the eight year span between 2003 and 2011, and the proportion of minimum wage workers is increasing more rapidly among racialized employees than in the population at large. In short, more of us are working for less money, and the distribution of minimum wage work is increasingly unequal.

Some of Block's findings:

  • In 2003, 4.3 per cent of Ontario's workforce earned the minimum wage; in 2011 it was 9 per cent.
  • Among racialized workers the rate went from 4.5 per cent (2003-2005) to 12.5 per cent (2009-2011).
  • A greater proportion of women are minimum wage workers: in 2003 5.1 per cent (vs 3.5 per cent for men), and in 2011 10.5 per cent (vs 7.6 per cent for men). The rate of increase in minimum wage work has been roughly equal between genders.
  • The demographic group with the highest proportion of minimum wage workers are recent immigrants who are women: 26.5 per cent of this group are working for minimum wage.
Increasing minimum wage would, Block says, "have a disproportionately positive impact on those groups [that currently have the greatest proportion of minimum wage workers]" in addition to raising the floor for all workers in the province.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Sheila Block, director of economic analysis, Wellesley Institute
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