Despite increase, minimum wage is a “poverty wage,” say living wage advocates

By: Cody Sellar

The minimum wage in Manitoba went up to $11.90 per hour on Oct. 1, which now ranks as the third-lowest minimum wage in Canada.

The 25 cent increase moves the province ahead of New Brunswick’s $11.70 per hour. Newfoundland and Labrador pulled ahead of Manitoba with a 50 cent jump to $12.15 on the same day.

In an email to The Projector, the province said the increase keeps in line with the inflation rate, adding that they believe, “The minimum wage should be determined by economic, rather than political factors.”

But living wage advocates say the minimum wage puts an economic crunch on many Manitobans.

“The Manitoba minimum wage is a poverty wage,” said Molly McCracken, Director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA-Manitoba). 

A recent report from CCPA-Manitoba found people working at minimum wage lacked the disposable income to escape poverty. 

Many have to enlist the help of multiple government subsidies to make the poverty line, and sometimes even that is not enough, the report says. 

Around 31,000 Manitobans work for minimum wage each year. 

“And there’s a lot of myths about who works for the minimum wage,” said Jesse Hajer, who co-authored the report. Young people comprise just over half of minimum wage workers, he said, but, “Around 47 per cent are 25 years and older. One-third of them have a university or college degree, and over half of them have worked at the same job for over a year.”

Of this demographic, the report cites a survey in which 38 per cent of workers reported needing to use food banks or community meals, and nearly 30 per cent said they stayed with family or friends because they could not afford their own housing. 

Hajer and colleagues call for an increase to $15 per hour, which he said could provide enough income for many to stay above the poverty line. Even then, he said, “It still left a single parent well below a living wage.”

Alberta has already hit the $15 mark, with BC and Ontario hovering just under and Quebec creeping up over $13 per hour. 

The report says opponents of a $15 minimum wage say the increase would hurt workers by causing the elimination of low-wage jobs, but Hajer said the empirical research says otherwise.

“What we’ve seen in Canada, in the provinces that did do big minimum wage increases, we saw that there was no negative impact on jobs,” he said. “In fact, in places like Ontario, it actually seemed to improve the economy.”

A change of this magnitude would require Manitoba to buck a long-standing trend, however. Over the last fifteen years, the average increase has been just over 31 cents per year, and no increase has ever come close to the $3.10 needed to reach CCPA-Manitoba’s recommendation.