Raising Minimum Wage Fails as Anti-Poverty Measure

business_ethics_highlights_2If you think raising the minimum wage is an anti-poverty measure, you understand neither who the poor are nor who minimum wage earners are. There’s very little overlap, Charles Lammam and Hugh MacIntyre write. >>>

Opinion: Raising B.C.’s minimum wage won’t help most struggling families

The goal of helping struggling families and the most vulnerable in society is laudable. But the problem is the minimum wage is the wrong policy to achieve this end. Before determining what the right policy is, we first need to understand who the impoverished really are. It turns out they are overwhelmingly not minimum-wage earners.

Statistics Canada data for 2012 show that 89% of minimum-wage earners are not part of a poor household. (“Poor” is defined as income below Statistics Canada’s low income cutoff.) By this measure, nearly nine of every 10 minimum-wage earners in the province are not living in poor households.

This simple fact poses a clear problem for anyone claiming that the minimum wage can effectively fight poverty.

The reason for this seemingly counterintuitive statistic relates to the household status of minimum-wage earners. According to 2014 data from Statistics Canada, 52% of minimum-wage workers lived with parents or other relatives, the vast majority of them are aged 15 to 24 and a sizable share are still in school.

Of the remaining minimum-wage earners, 19% have working spouses, meaning their household income is higher than what a single minimum wage would provide.

Based on these statistics, at least 71% of minimum-wage earners are part of a household with another family earner, signalling they do not live on their income alone. An additional 8% live with non-relatives and likely share some of their living costs with other people.

Fortunately, the case of a single parent with young children struggling to get by on the minimum wage is rare. Again, according to Statistics Canada, this situation makes up about 2% of all minimum-wage earners.

With these facts in mind, it should not be surprising that empirical research has found that increasing the minimum wage does not have a statistically significant effect on the share of Canadians living on low income. In fact, one academic study found that minimum-wage hikes increased the share of families falling below the relative poverty threshold.


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