Like many Yukoners, I was disappointed in the Liberal government’s recent decision not to undertake a review of Yukon’s minimum wage.
Recent research by the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition has shown that Yukon’s current minimum hourly wage of $10.25 is far below the “living wage” that is needed needed to provide food, shelter, transportation, clothing, and other necessities. For a family of four living in Whitehorse, with two parents working full-time, an hourly rate of $19.12 per hour is required to make ends meet.
Alberta and Ontario have both committed to implementing a $15 hourly minimum wage, recognizing that many citizens working full-time in low-wage jobs are struggling to provide for their families. This decision was based on significant analysis — two years worth, in the case of Ontario — that showed not only benefits for low-wage earners, but broader positive economic impacts for those provinces.
While critics of a wage increase often lament the impact it would have on small businesses, the reality in Yukon is that most minimum wage earners are employed by big-box stores and franchises like Wal-Mart, Canadian Tire and McDonalds. This is not to say that small business owners would not feel the pinch if minimum wages were increased, but that the extra dollars in the pockets of workers — who are also consumers and contributors to our economy — may have a bigger economic impact.
Will a minimum wage increase also increase household spending for low-wage earners? Would a wage increase help some low-income families reduce their dependence on social services? Would an increases in the minimum wage lead businesses paying slightly above that rate to also increase their wages, creating a “trickle up” effect in the local economy? Should Yukon’s minimum wage continue to be based on the consumer price index, despite the wide gap between the wage rate suggested by this index and the living wage required for working families to make ends meet?
These are important questions. It’s too bad the government isn’t interested in the answers.