The proportion of Canadians earning minimum wage has doubled over the past two decades, according to new data from Statistics Canada.
The number of low-income earners jumped from 5.2 per cent in 1998 to 10.4 per cent in 2018, with the biggest increases occurring over two key periods.
The first major increase happened right before the start of the global financial crisis in 2008. As people lost well-paying positions, many were forced into lower-paying jobs.
The second big bump happened in 2018, in tandem with minimum wage increases in three provinces.
“The proportion of employees earning minimum wage rose to unprecedented levels, as increases in the minimum wage levels in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia resulted in a number of existing employees joining the ranks of minimum wage workers,” said the report.
The biggest surge in minimum wage workers occurred in Canada’s largest province. Of the 617,500 low-income earners in 2018, 77.8 per cent were in Ontario.
The type of people working in minimum wage jobs has evolved too. They were “relatively more likely to live in urban areas, work in retail trade, be employed in a large firm, work full-time and be older than 24,” said the report.
More minimum wage workers have post-secondary education today (one in three), compared to 1998 (one in four).
Most minimum wage workers are employed in the retail trade sector (32.7 per cent), surpassing accommodation and food services since the early 2000s.
Small- and medium-sized businesses aren’t driving the growth in minimum wage jobs, rather the increase is taking place within large companies.
Nominal minimum wage growth has been higher (3.5 per cent) compared to average hourly wage growth (2.7 per cent).
Despite increases to the minimum wage, it’s still not enough to be able to keep up with the cost of living in expensive cities like Toronto and Vancouver. Not to mention, many low-income earners don’t receive things like health benefits, pension plans, or paid sick leave.
Jessy Bains is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow him on Twitter @jessysbains.