Toronto families slip into poverty
TheStar.com – GTA – Toronto families slip into poverty
November 26, 2007
Laurie Monsebraaten, Rita Daly, Staff Reporters
More Toronto families are slipping into poverty at a time when families in the rest of the GTA, the province, and the country are seeing their economic prospects stabilize and even improve, says a groundbreaking report to be released today.
While national incomes have surged in recent years, almost 30 per cent of Toronto families Ã¢â‚¬â€œ approximately 93,000 households raising children Ã¢â‚¬â€œ live in poverty, compared with 16 per cent in 1990. This economic decline is a warning that, despite outward signs of prosperity, the country’s largest city is falling behind, says the report by the United Way of Greater Toronto.
The dire financial plight of so many Toronto families cries out for immediate action from all levels of government, as well as business leaders, United Way president Frances Lankin said.
“This is a stunning foretelling,” she said. “The warning these numbers hold point to a broad assault on our economy and to our well-being.”
The report comes at a time when the Ontario government is about to draft a poverty-reduction strategy with goals and timetables. Lankin said the report’s findings show that any provincial strategy must address Toronto’s unique challenges.
“If we don’t have a specific strategy Ã¢â‚¬â€œ with goals and timetables for Toronto Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the provincial numbers will mask the depth of what is happening in this city.”
Although the rest of the GTA is faring well, Lankin said a corresponding growth in the number of low-income families should sound alarm bells for political leaders in the suburbs, too.
“The lack of social service supports in the 905 relative to the population growth and the number of people living in poverty is going to hit hard,” Lankin said.
The report, Losing Ground: The Persistent Growth of Family Poverty in Canada’s Largest City, charts median family incomes in Toronto, the GTA, Ontario and Canada. It paints a sobering picture of the city against a national backdrop of high rates of employment, strong job growth and corporate profits.
Since 2000, Toronto’s median family income after taxes and transfers of $41,100, the midpoint for all households raising children 17 and under, has remained relatively stagnant and is now $10,000 lower than the rest of Canada and almost $20,000 less than the rest of the GTA, the report says.
Among two-parent families, nearly one in five now lives in poverty in the city compared with about one in 10 at the national, provincial and regional level, while more than half of single-parent households in Toronto are poor. The report defines poverty as a family whose after-tax income is 50 per cent below the median in their community, taking family size into consideration. In Toronto a two-parent family with two children living on less than $27,500 is considered poor.
In short, the report says Toronto families are losing ground on every measure Ã¢â‚¬â€œ in median incomes, the percentage of low-income families and the sheer number of families living in poverty.
Venise Bedard, a single mother of two, took a job transfer from North Bay to Toronto four years ago to improve her economic prospects, only to be laid off by her telemarketing firm six months later.
Determined to make the best of her situation, she took out a $25,000 OSAP loan and went back to school to fulfill a lifelong dream to become a social service worker.
She worked part-time while studying to help pay the bills, but when it came time to do her community placement, the OSAP money had run out and she had nowhere left to turn. Unable to juggle a full-time job, school and her responsibilities as a mom, she reluctantly applied for welfare. The experience nearly broke her spirit.
Bedard, 29, is collecting about $1,000 a month in welfare, while paying $925 in rent for a one-bedroom apartment near Jane St. and Lawrence Ave. She relies on her GST credit and her $500 monthly child benefit cheque for food and clothing for herself and her two children, now 9 and 2.
She hopes to defy the odds and find a steady job after the Women Moving Forward program at the Jane/Finch Community and Family Centre encouraged her to complete her community placement. She received her social service worker diploma this month. But for now, living on less than $19,000 a year, life is a daily struggle.
A single parent with two children in Toronto needs more than $23,375 to escape poverty.
“People on welfare are stuck,” says Bedard, who always supported herself in North Bay. “In Toronto, there is no money for anything but rent so you are stuck in your apartment. You can’t afford bus fare to look for work. Then, if you get the job, you can’t afford the transit to get there until you get your first paycheque.”
The report shows Toronto’s poorest families have actually fared better since 2000, due to yearly increases to the national child benefit, marginal hikes in welfare rates and a rising provincial minimum wage. The poorest are defined as those families with incomes falling 75 per cent below the median, taking into consideration family size and children’s ages. It shows that small public policy changes can improve the lives of families living in deepest poverty, the report says.
When combined with changes such as improved access to employment insurance, beefed up labour laws, and dental and vision care for low-wage workers, poverty can be reduced even more substantially, the report adds.
Any big city is a magnet for lower-income families, like Bedard’s. Toronto is also a first stop for many new immigrants. It offers a vast supply of rental housing Ã¢â‚¬â€œ 46 per cent of city households are renters. And it runs the largest stock of subsidized housing in the country.
But few non-profit housing units have been built in the past decade that would otherwise explain the rise in poor families in Toronto.
Since 2000, the city has seen a net loss of jobs, many of them well-paying and unionized, while elsewhere job creation is on the rise. At the same time jobs have been replaced by temporary, part-time and contract work that offer no job security, benefits or eligibility for employment insurance.
As a result, an alarming number of households are in deep financial trouble as seen by an increase in the number of evictions, family debt and bankruptcies since 2000, a year when the crippling recession of the 1990s had clearly eased in the rest of the country, the report says. From 1999 to 2006, landlord applications for eviction due to nonpayment of rent climbed from 19,795 to more than 25,000. Also, the number of people receiving credit counselling in Toronto has almost doubled in the past six years to an average of 4,534 per month.
Not surprisingly, the number of moneylending outlets has increased almost eightfold since 1995 to more than 300, largely concentrated in the low-income neighbourhoods.
“This city, this region, is great,” said Lankin. “But to be truly great, it needs to be great for everyone. So let’s take that next step to get there.”
The United Way report uses Statistics Canada tax filing data to calculate median family incomes in Toronto. The median divides household income into two parts: half of families live on more while the other half lives on less.
The low-income measure or LIM, used in Quebec and in European countries, defines poverty as those living on 50 per cent of the median income, taking family size and ages of children into account.
The United Way defines a family as one or two parents raising children 17 and younger.
Total income is from all sources, after taxes and government transfers such as the Child Tax Benefit or welfare.
By the numbers
3 number of reports in the 18 months, each warning of a rise of poverty in the city. The first was a Toronto blue-ribbon task force report, Time for a Fair Deal, in 2006, a TD Economics special report published in July of this year, and today’s United Way report, Losing Ground.
29 the percentage of low-income families in Toronto in 2005, up from 16 per cent in 1990. The GTA, the province and Canada all have fewer than 20 per cent.
52 percentage of the city’s single-parent families living on low incomes and raising children aged 17 and under. In 1990, it was one in three.
30 percentage of families with a single parent in Toronto in 2005. Their numbers continue to climb in the city, accounting for all growth in the number of families with children 17 and younger, since 2000.
50 percentage of people receiving credit counselling from Credit Canada has risen about 50 per cent, from 2,993 per month in 2001 to 4,534 per month in 2007.
26 percentage that evictions for nonpayment of rent in Toronto rose between 1999 and 2006. That year, landlords applied for more than 25,000 evictions.