Fraser Forum

Not fake, but misleading news on minimum wages

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CBC’s The National ran a very touching story this week about the hard choices faced by three Toronto men holding down minimum wage jobs. It was both empathetic and sympathetic. Good. We shouldn’t skimp on either for people who are worse off than we are.

But, though not actually fake news, as insight into the minimum wage debate, the story was misleading. At one stage, reporter Nick Purdon, moved by the plight of the three men, reflected on how eight per cent of Canadians live like this.

No, they don’t. Eight per cent of Canadians may earn the minimum wage (in fact, the StatsCan report I’m going to rely on here says 6.8 per cent, though that was for 2013). But very few are middle-aged men relying on their minimum wage job for their entire income.

  • Minimum wage workers typically aren’t middle-aged. Almost 40 per cent (39.8 to be exact) were aged 15 to 19 in 2013. Another 21 per cent were 20 to 24. That means more than 60 per cent were 24 or under. Some do live alone and depend on their earnings for their entire income. Most probably don’t.
  • Minimum wage workers typically don’t work full time. The split in 2013 was 59 per cent part time, 41 per cent full time.
  • They typically don’t work in manufacturing, as at least one of Purdon’s three did. Rather, in 2013 almost 92 per cent worked in services.
  • They typically aren’t men. The split in 2013 was 58.9 per cent women, only 41.1 per cent men. It’s refreshing that the usually obsessively politically correct CBC would choose to focus on three men scraping by on minimum wage. But they’re not the norm.
  • They typically don’t have any university, as one of Purdon’s three seemed to have. In fact, only 10.6 per cent had a university degree in 2013. By contrast, 29.3 per cent had less than a high school diploma. The education data are for people 15 and over, so some of those 29.3 per cent may be just about to get a high school diploma but didn’t have one when they were surveyed. In total, 71.1 per cent of minimum wage workers didn’t have a post-secondary diploma.

You can also turn the data around and ask how many people in different demographic slices were earning minimum wage.

  • In 2013, fully half (50.2 per cent) of 15 to 19-year-olds, and 13.4 per cent of those 20 to 24, were earning minimum wage. But only 3.5 per cent of 25 to 34-year-olds were, and just 2.8 per cent of those 35 to 64. So, again, middle-aged workers aren’t typical.
  • In 2013, only 2.6 per cent of workers with a university degree and 3.4 per cent of those with a postsecondary diploma made minimum wage. By contrast, 10.2 per cent of those with high school and some postsecondary and 20.4 per cent of those with less than a high school diploma did. It’s kind of amazing, in fact, that in 2013 almost 80 per cent of workers with less than high school didn’t make minimum wage. Even in this information society, they were able to make more than minimum wage.
  • In 2013, only 3.4 per cent of full-time workers made minimum wage vs. 21.8 per cent of part-time workers.  
  • In 2013, only 5.5 per cent of men made minimum wage compared to 8.0 per cent of women.

I don’t want to diminish the hardship experienced by any middle-aged male who depends entirely on a minimum wage job for his income, especially in an expensive city such as Toronto.

But he’s not at all your typical minimum wage worker. Far from it. Deciding minimum wage policy as if he is remains a big mistake.


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