rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

How a $15 minimum wage reduces poverty and saves us all money

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca in its summer fundraiser today for as little as $5 per month!

Image: workersactioncentre.org

Please support our coverage of democratic movements and become a supporter of rabble.ca.


Karen Maleka is a part-time personal support worker. She works in and around Cambridge, taking care of sick people, old people and people who can no longer care for themselves. Each week she works 35 to 40 hours, and yet her employer classifies her as a part-time employee.

I met Karen recently in a Tim Horton's parking lot on Hespeler road, where she had just hopped off the bus. As we drove towards Guelph, where Karen would share her experiences at a public consultation organized by the Ministry of Labour, I asked her what she planned to say. "I'm going to talk about benefits. Because my employer says I'm part time I have to re-qualify for benefits every year, by working at least 1500 hours. Last year my friend found out she had cancer. She missed a lot of work because she was sick, and so she lost her benefits."

Ontario's economy is changing faster than its labour laws, and Karen's situation is increasingly common. Every year more full time jobs disappear, replaced by part time, temporary, and contract jobs. These precarious jobs are lower waged than similar, full-time work. They come with few if any employment and health benefits, like paid sick or vacation days. They are unpredictably scheduled and lack protections when wages and rights are violated.

Forty-one per cent of working Ontarians do not have standard full-time employment and one in three works for a low wage. So, even if none of the above sounds familiar to you, it will for some of your neighbours, for the person who cares for your mother, pours your beer, or teaches your kid on contract at college.

What's more, all this bad work has expensive, far-reaching consequences. I work at a food bank in Kitchener, and one in five of our program patrons works. I hear about workers going without dental care, terrified of getting sick, missing a day of work and having to depend, again, on payday lenders. Bad work means ambulances and emergency rooms instead of family doctors and preventative care, cheap calorie rich foods now and chronic diseases later.

These are things we must eventually pay for, because poverty is expensive. In their expansive 2008 report, the Ontario Association of Food Banks calculated that the effects of poverty cost our Federal Government $70 billion annually.

These are avoidable costs, and a very good way to avoid them, and to reduce poverty, is to make work more secure and better paid. These are the twin aims of the provincial $15 and Fairness campaign, which calls for a $15/hour minimum wage, and decent hours, paid sick days, respect at work, and "rules that protect all of us."

Alberta is getting a provincial $15 minimum wage.  Los Angeles, the fourth-largest city in North America, recently signed into law a $15 minimum wage inside city limits.

Heresy of heresies, I know. However, a $15 minimum wage would help to make work a real pathway out of poverty in Ontario. Our current $11 per hour minimum wage puts a full time worker 17 per cent below the poverty line. Working people could use their wages to buy the things they need, in their own communities.

A new report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives finds "no consistent evidence that minimum wage levels affect employment in either direction." Some prices would go up, as owners pass costs on to consumers, but a nickel more for a Big Mac seems fair, given what we would gain, and viable businesses could surely absorb new labour costs. Might we also eventually agree that businesses paying poverty wages are never viable?

A $15 minimum wage is not a magic bullet. It is a blunt tool to reduce poverty and save taxpayers money, a quick and relatively easy way to bring minimum wage workers -- who are disproportionately female, racialized, and new to Canada -- out of grinding poverty.

After sharing about the causes and effects of precarious work, we drop Karen off at her suburban Cambridge home. She's unusual among her colleagues in owning a home. Many would like to buy, she explains as we pull into the driveway, but no bank will lend to a part-time PSW. I have many more questions for Karen, like "how do you do it!?," but she has to get ready for her daughter's high school graduation, happening that evening. She is heading to university next year, Karen says, laughing.

"She wants to be a human rights lawyer," and then, another laugh, continues, "you know, like, a poor people's lawyer."

Get involved!

Please support our coverage of democratic movements and become a supporter of rabble.ca.


This article originially appeared in the Waterloo Region Record.

Image: workersactioncentre.org

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.