Increased numbers of NB workers earn only minimum wage.
by Jody Dallaire
More than 12 percent of all female employees in New Brunswick are earning minimum wage — 19,400 working women in 2011. Given that 8.2 percent of female employees across Canada earn the minimum wage, NB’s 12.2 percent is the highest rate in Canada.
And you can forget the stereotypes. Few minimum wage workers are teenagers flipping burgers after school. The majority of them are adults — 70 percent of female minimum wage workers and 63 percent of male are aged 20 or more.
Indeed, there are more women aged 45 and over who are working for minimum wage than there are female teens: 6,300 versus 5,900. There are also increasing numbers of 45-year-old men working for minimum wage. About half of all minimum wage workers work full-time and the great majority are permanent employees.
Two-thirds of minimum wage workers have a high school diploma or better. In fact, 1,100 female and 800 male minimum wage workers in this province have a university degree.
Among female minimum wage earners, most are in sales or service: 40 percent are cashiers or retail salespersons and 20 percent are in sales and service occupations such as travel, accommodation or recreation. Another 13 percent work as chefs, cooks, or in food and beverage service. Currently, the gross salary of someone who works full time at the minimum wage rate ($10 per hour since April 2012) is about $20,800 per year.
In 2009, only about 6 percent of female employees (10,800 women) were working for minimum wage in the province. Among male employees, while 4 percent of them earned minimum wage in 2009, 7 percent of them did by 2011 – also a significant increase, from 6,200 to 10,900 men.
Ontario and Newfoundland have higher percentages of its male workers earning minimum wage than does New Brunswick.
Given that the minimum wage provides only a poverty-level standard of living, there’s a surprising lack of concern that such a high percentage of NB workers are stuck at this level. And given that the situation is worsening, there’s also a lack of oversight or mechanism to protect the buying power of our “minimum wage”.
If New Brunswick had a poverty reduction plan, a real plan, things would be different. The minimum wage rate would be a public issue. To date, the most thought government has put on the issue lately seems to be its now-abandoned proposal to reduce the minimum wage rate for young workers or for workers in certain industries.
These figures only came to light because most minimum wage workers are women — about two-thirds of them in 2011 – and these figures were included in the Equality Profile 2012, the provincial government’s compilation of statistics on the status of New Brunswick women, released this fall.
Among reasons for the recent increased in this wage level are: new jobs now rarely pay a good wage; fewer and fewer workers are unionized; and – have you heard? — the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.
To be fair, we should note that, in the years just before 2011, the minimum wage increased significantly. It was $7.75 per hour in early 2009 and by end of 2011, after five increases, it was $9.50 — 22 percent higher. Therefore, some people who were earning more than minimum wage in 2009 may have been at minimum wage by 2011, because that minimum rate caught up to them if they did not have a significant increase during those years.
Successive provincial governments deserve credit for finally increasing the minimum wage in recent years, though they also deserve blame for those frequent long spans of neglect. However, the minimum wage rate is still not where it should be, and it is still vulnerable to neglect by governments in the future, because no formula is used to do automatic adjustments. Tying the minimum wage to a percentage of the average wage would be fair.
Apart from earning the lowest wage possible, minimum wage workers often also face precarious working conditions such as seasonal work, or dismal conditions, such as split shift work and unpaid waiting time.
Does it make sense to have jobs that create poverty? If employers don’t pay proper wages, taxpayers must often pay more because poverty wages means poor health, less education, more crime, but also more public programs to alleviate the needs of children from low-income families, for example.
Politicians often tell poor people to get a job. But if so many jobs pay only minimum wage, people will still be stuck in poverty.© Copyright 2012, All rights Reserved. StraightGoods.ca