Wynne too invested in wage hike to back down
Raising Ontario’s minimum wage will cost 50,000 jobs and much of the money meant to help working poor people will end up in the hands of the relatively well-off, says a new analysis from the government’s Financial Accountability Office.
Hiking the minimum wage from $11.40 to $15 an hour by 2019 is a signature move for Premier Kathleen Wynne and her Liberal party, the biggest item on a list of labour reforms the premier says are about making Ontario’s economy work for more people. It’ll affect an estimated 1.6 million people who make less than $15 an hour now.
A legislative committee examining the issue heard from store owners, restaurateurs and resort operators, most of whom said they’ll have to lay off their minimum-wage workers and cut others’ hours to stay in business.
Their claims are easy to dismiss if you want to do that. The point of raising the minimum wage is to transfer some profits from owners to low-wage workers and you wouldn’t expect the owners to love it. Employers moan about minimumwage hikes but somehow we still have an economy. And amid the complainers, there are employers who say that paying better gets them happier workers and healthier businesses. The economy is a big enough thing for everyone to be right.
The minimum wage covers two different kinds of workers: those who work at or near minimum wage for much of their lives and those just starting out. Or, put another way, those whose employers consider their work to be worth what they’re paid, and those whose employers hope their skills will grow into their wages.
The first group will mostly be OK when the minimum wage increases. The second group is in trouble.
“Canadian research suggests that a 10 per cent increase in minimum wages has historically resulted in a three to six per cent reduction in teen employment,” the FAO says. And we’re talking here about a 32 per cent wage hike.
“Studies have indicated that businesses which face higher payroll costs typically respond by laying off inexperienced workers. Given this, the job losses would be expected to be concentrated among teens, young adults, and recent immigrants,” the report says. Expect a loss of 65,000 jobs as entry-level employees are replaced by automation or simply done without.
On the flip side, about 15,000 of those jobs will be made up by higher spending, as remaining minimumwage workers get paid more and spend more.
Once all the pushing and pulling is done, the FAO expects a net loss of 50,000 jobs, an increase in prices of 0.5 per cent, and an increase in real labour income of 1.3 per cent.
So yes, the minimum-wage earners who keep their jobs will end up a little bit better off. But an odd thing happens when you zoom out and look at household incomes instead of individual incomes.
According to the FAO, 60 per cent of the household-income increases from raising the minimum wage will go to households making less than the median household income — the people the government wants to lift.
Yet 40 per cent will go to households making more than the median income of about $92,000 — mainly because few households rely exclusively on minimum-wage earners. A meaningful percentage of them are young people living with parents who make more money.
“Since minimum wages target lowwage workers, but not necessarily low-income families, raising the minimum wage would be an inefficient policy tool for reducing overall poverty,” the watchdog says.
“Will be,” it should say. The Liberals are much too invested in the idea to back down. Wynne reaffirmed her commitment on Tuesday after the FAO report came out. She’s “obligated to act,” she said. firstname.lastname@example.org