Over the past quarter century there has been a growing body of support for the importance of understanding the relationship between poor living conditions and ill-health. These conditions have been referred to as the social determinants of health. There has been a strong push amongst policy makers to study the non-medical determinants of health as opposed to the traditional narrow way of thinking with regards to medical treatments or lifestyle choices (Mikkonen, Raphael 2010). Income and income distribution is thought to be the most important of the social determinants of health because it further influences other social determinants of health for example, low-income families are forced to live under circumstances of material and social deprivation which make it very difficult for families to be able to afford the basic necessities of life such as food, clothing and housing (Kekkonen, Raphael 2010). Studies have shown that suicide rates and the onset of many diseases such as diabetes and heart disease is significantly more prevalent amongst low income Canadians than there more affluent counter-parts. One policy that has often been implemented by governments as a means to alleviate poverty and to increase income equality is the minimum wage policy. There has been an ongoing debate over whether increasing the minimum wage is an effective policy to alleviate poverty in society and provide a more equal distribution of wealth or, if it has further negative implications on the working poor due to the effects that minimum wage policies have on employment and the job market. This paper will explore the historical background of the minimum wage and discuss the reasons for its establishment. Both sides to the argument on the effectiveness of minimum wage policies will be examined and compared as well as determining whether its implementation will provide health benefits for low-income Canadians by decreasing poverty and increasing income distribution.
Minimum wage legislation is one of the oldest government policy instruments used in the labour market. In Canada, early minimum wage laws were designed and implemented to protect women from exploitation. The notion of protecting vulnerable workers was thought to have been based on British minimum wage laws to protect children from exploitative labour in factories (Goldberg, Green 1999). In Canada, the first minimum wage laws were ratified around 1918 in British Columbia and Manitoba. The legislation only protected women. Six Canadian provinces implemented minimum wage legislation covering women by the 1920s. Minimum wage legislation eventually extended to also protect young vulnerable workers and men. In 1925 British Columbia was the first province to modify its minimum wage laws to also protect male workers. Most of the other provinces in Canada had modified their minimum wage laws to also protect male workers by the mid-1930s (Goldberg, Green 1999). By...