Spinning Alberta's minimum wage increase

Back in late May, Alberta announced that it would be increasing the minimum wage in September, with the general minimum wage rising from $9.40 an hour to $9.75. The minimum wage for servers of hooch will stay at $9.05.

I'd didn't blog about this increase, in part because I just quickly skimmed the government press release. One of the sentences that I should have read more carefully was this one:

"After taxes, Alberta's new general minimum wage of $9.75 per hour will rank second in Canada."

Like I imagine most people did, I read the "rank second in Canada" part, when "huh" and moved on. Yet, I just read an email from the Alberta Federation of Labour that caused me to go back through and read the "after taxes" part.

It does appear to be true that, after taxes, Alberta has the second highest minimum wage. But, before taxes, Alberta has the second lowest minimum wage.

I'm not sure which interpretation is preferable. In either case, these workers end up earning poverty-level wages and will struggle to house and feed themselves and their families. You can view a profile of minimum-wage earners here. They are not all teenagers, as we are often led to believe.

What annoys me is the crass spin-doctoring. Attempting to frame the second lowest minimum wage as the second highest is clearly an attempt to make a bad news story look like good news. When governments do this, they lose credibility. This constant fudging of the truth to protect politicians from justifiable flak was one of the reason I left government.

On a related note, Public Interest Alberta has released some StatCan data suggesting that 25% of Alberta workers (about 419,000 people) earn less than $15 an hour. Relatively few of these workers are teenagers, with more than half being over aged 25 and 60% being women.

In February, Vibrant Calgary released a report on poverty in Alberta which suggests at least 300,000 Albertans lived in poverty in 2009, including 73,000 children (up 40% over 2008). Last November, Public Interest Alberta, the Edmonton Social Planning Council and the Alberta College of Social Workers released similar numbers.

So is a 35-cent minimum-wage increase really all that much good news?

Labour Employment in Alberta

Bob Barnetson

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