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Hamilton workers’ wages shrinking, think tank says

Hamilton Spectator

New research shows that workers across most of Ontario - including Hamilton - are becoming poorer, despite rising income levels across much of Canada.

The study by the Ottawa-based Broadbent Institute and provided to the Star found that Ontario’s median income decreased by 1.7 percent between 2006 and 2012. All other provinces and territories except British Columbia saw median income rise during the same period.

In Hamilton, median employment income dropped 2.3 per cent  - or $804 - from $34,494 in 2006  to $33,690 in 2012, the Broadbent Institute study shows.    In Toronto, the median income dropped by 2.8 percent, to $32,670.

“It does suggest that living standards in Ontario are stagnating,” said the Broadbent Institute’s senior policy advisor, Andrew Jackson.

Employment income, rather than money earned from investments, pensions or benefits, makes up the biggest chunk of overall household earnings. The research looked at median rather than average employment income levels, since averages tend to be skewed by large income increases for the very rich.

Nationally, median incomes went up by 3.5 percent. Newfoundland and Labrador was the best-performing province, with income growth of almost 38 per cent over the six years studied. Resource-rich provinces such as Saskatchewan and Alberta also saw significant gains.

In Ontario, though, the picture was much bleaker. Of 14 regions surveyed, only three — Ottawa, Kingston, and Sudbury — saw incomes rise.

“In the recession of 2009, we saw very significant losses at better-paid-than-average manufacturing jobs, and a very limited recovery of those jobs since,” Jackson said. The sector’s slump could also have a spill-over effect on service sector jobs in Toronto.

Jackson also said the growth of precarious employment in the city may have dampened income growth. Research by McMaster University and United Way shows that about one in five working people in the GTA-Hamilton area are in precarious employment.

Deena Ladd, of the Worker’s Action Centre, a labour rights group, said the Ontario government could do more to boost worker’s wages by mandating equal pay for equal work. Employees who are sub-contracted or hired through temp agencies are often paid far less than those in permanent positions, even when doing the same job.

“They could be helping to promote full-time work, introducing polices that mean that workers should be able get hours they can live on,” said Ladd.

Federally, Jackson said the government’s focus on resource-based expansion may have fuelled skewed income growth across the country.

“I think their major focus has been very much on the development of the resource economy, and manufacturing has been something of an afterthought,” he said,

“You say ‘manufacturing’ and people tend to think of blue-collar jobs and smokestack industries,” he added. “But there are a lot of high-end jobs in manufacturing as well as the knowledge economy.”

Whatever the vehicle, Lynn Beamish hopes change comes soon.

“It is tough without getting that weekly or bi-weekly pay check coming in,” she says. “Most people are just living that way, paycheck to paycheck.”