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Minimum wage and the working poor

  • Although rates of poverty are higher in households with fewer wage earners,[10] paid employment is not always sufficient to escape poverty.

  • The working poor are considered to be those families that derive more than 50% of their income from paid work, and yet live below the poverty line.[10]

  • Forty-three percent of all poor families have earnings from 43 to over 103 weeks of work, the equivalent of one to three full time jobs.[10]

  • Of poor unattached individuals, 26% worked 49-52 weeks of the year.[10]

  • In 2001, there were 374,000 families under 65 and 477,000 poor unattached individuals under 65 who fit the definition of working poor.[10]

How does this happen?

Consider the example of a full-time worker making minimum wage in the Province of Quebec. For a single person, the current minimum wage of $6.90/hour amounts to a gross annual income of $14,352 and a take home pay of $12,533.[11] Single parents and couples with children fare slightly better owing to generous tax credits and benefits, although minimum wage work still places them just below or above the LICO.[11]

This situation exists not only in Quebec, but across Canada. In Ontario, Alberta and BC, minimum wage work is not sufficient to allow single individuals, single parents or two parent families with children to escape poverty.[11]Workers need to earn at least $10 an hour to escape poverty, but even at this wage, are still very near poor.[11]


10. National Council of Welfare. Poverty profile 2001. Ottawa, Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada, 2004.

11. National Council of Welfare. Income for Living? Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada, 2004.

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