Art By June Anderson



7 people on life after Ontario’s minimum wage increase

Here’s how a higher minimum wage has—and hasn’t—made a difference for these GTA workers

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On January 1, the Ontario government boosted the province’s minimum wage from $11.60 to $14. Since then, much of the conversation around the increase has focused on its impact on businesses. A common thread has emerged, with many (but not all) small business owners saying they can’t afford the new (and sudden) legal standard. As for larger companies, some have found themselves making difficult decisions.

But what about the minimum wage employees whose names are on the paycheques? Six months after the change, it’s time to take stock. Has the increase hurt or helped people who depend on a minimum wage job? Here, seven people from across the GTA share what it’s like to earn $2.40 more per hour.

“Am I really benefiting from it or is it the exact same as before?” 

“I’ve been working in salons for about eight years, moving up the ranks and getting experience. I recently graduated from a junior stylist to a director stylist, so I’m constantly building my own clientele while also assisting eight different stylists and the owners of the salon with their clients, colours and anything else they need help with. It’s not that common for a director stylist to also work as an assistant, but my salon can’t afford to hire someone else because of the minimum wage increase. I also wanted to add an extra day to my schedule but the salon can’t afford that, either. The increase is nice in many ways—who can complain about more money?—but I’d prefer to be salaried because then I would have benefits. I’m a single mom (my daughter is three and my son will be six in June), so it can get difficult. If you’re paying your employees more, the cost of everything else goes up, too. Am I really benefiting from it or is it the exact same as before?” — Marisha, hair stylist and assistant, Ajax

“I have some savings to fall back on while I focus on studying full-time”

“I finished my undergraduate degree in August 2017, I completed a post-graduate diploma in December 2017 and I’ve since secured a full-time position as a public auditor to begin in September. I wasn’t really sure what to do with the time in between now and then, but then the minimum wage was increased. I’ve been at Starbucks for about two and a half months now, but I plan to leave at the end of May to focus on studying for my CPA exam. The minimum wage increase has made my lifestyle so flexible. I live at home with my dad so while I don’t need to pay for rent or groceries, having a higher income has made me able to do things like take weekend trips or have dinner out without worrying. Plus, I have some savings to fall back on while I focus on studying full time.” — Mitch, Starbucks barista, Markham

“The increase has had a positive impact on me, but I still think more could be done”

“Both before and since the minimum wage increase, it has been very tight financially. Admittedly, I’ve been able to put more in my savings since the hike, and that will help in the off-season (June to September), but summertime will be the real test. I’ve cut everything down to the bare bones: I have a TV, but I don’t have any TV services—not Netflix, cable nor satellite. I don’t eat out; I haven’t been to the movies since one time last year; I have a doctor but no personal health or dental insurance. I’m bipolar but I haven’t been on any medication in almost 20 years because, without insurance, I can’t afford it. It’s tough. The increase has had a positive impact on me but I still think more could be done. Tying minimum wage to inflation would be a big help.” — Anne*, usher and box office clerk, Ajax

“I’m glad to have been given the chance to be less of a financial burden on my parents”

“I still live with my parents so I’m financially dependent, but I’m off to my first year of university in the fall and this job is my primary means of saving up for that. I started working with my new employer just as the increase took effect and it’s been great. Since starting the job, I’ve been able to do things like take trips and go out with friends while still putting away a decent amount of money for university. I’m glad to have been given the chance to be less of a financial burden on my parents.” — Eryn, math tutor, Richmond Hill

“The hike has helped, but it doesn’t feel like enough. Life costs so much”

“I’ve always given myself this rule: Save as much money as I can. That way, when I want to make a big life purchase like a house or a car, I’ll have the money to do so. I’ve always had more than one job—right now I have two part-time jobs and one full-time job—so I’m able to set aside as much money as possible while still being comfortable financially. I love my full-time job and that’s what I want to pursue; my minimum wage jobs are just for extra cash. I was excited to hear that my minimum wage income would increase, but I want to buy a house and after the increase, the price of real estate went up too. While the hike has helped, it doesn’t feel like enough. Life costs so much.” — Dora, tanning salon employee, dance instructor and rehabilitation service worker, Markham

“I’ve definitely noticed that patrons don’t want to tip as much”

“Before the increase, I was paid $10.90 per hour, I kept all of my tips and my tip-out was three percent of my daily sales. Now, my wage is $12.12 per hour but my tip-out to the kitchen and support staff has increased to five percent on my daily sales—almost double what it was before. On top of that, I’ve definitely noticed that patrons don’t want to tip as much. It seems like customers think that servers are already getting an hourly living wage, so why pay more? I also don’t get as many hours as I used to but, when I do have shifts, the workload is more difficult to manage because fewer people are working alongside me. The higher tip-out paired with the decrease in tips and fewer hours worked has lead to a substantial decrease in my income.” — Monica, server, Hamilton

“I’m acutely aware that this is only temporary, since the prices of goods will probably rise in the near future”

“I have worked at Cedar Brae golf course for the past two summers. I don’t mind working a minimum wage job but only because I know it’s temporary. I plan to attend law school in a year or two but I want to make some money first because I have a sizable debt from paying for my undergraduate degree. The minimum wage increase has helped my financial situation but I’m acutely aware that this is only temporary, since the prices of goods will probably rise in the near future.” — Andrew*, golf course shop attendant, Scarborough

* Name has been changed

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