The Toronto Foundation’s latest Vital Signs report, detailing the city’s economic and social health, was released last week. It says it “reveals the harsh realities of a city facing increasingly entrenched inequality despite massive growth.”

But surely “reveal” is the wrong word. It suggests a curtain has been lifted and we’ve all learned something for the first time.

Sadly, that’s not at all the case here.

We know Toronto’s story is one of two solitudes. One, where a small and affluent group is doing well and reaping the rewards of a booming economy. The other, a much larger group, is struggling just to make ends meet. The two groups are growing further apart, both economically and in their outlook on life.

For years, the annual Vital Signs report has pointed to this problem. Traditionally, it relied on hard numbers — the good and the bad of life in Toronto — to make its case. Last year’s report included personal stories, the better to give hardship a human face.

This year’s version lands in the middle of an election campaign and seeks to push the issue of poverty and inequality to the forefront of the federal campaign. So do three other reports released this month that also focus on rising concerns for those being left behind in Toronto, Ontario and all of Canada.

  • The Campaign 2000 report shows child and family poverty has dropped significantly across Canada since 2015 but problems still persist, with recent immigrant and Indigenous children affected the most.
  • The report by Feed Ontario, an association of food banks, finds that poverty rates among single adults and couples without children are rising because they haven’t received the federal and provincial government benefit increases directed to families with children.
  • The Colour of Poverty report points to growing racial inequalities, with Indigenous peoples and people of colour facing higher rates of poverty and homelessness and poorer health and justice outcomes than their white counterparts.

With a growing population and thriving economy, there’s much to celebrate in Toronto. But, as all these reports make clear, there’s a real problem when the benefits of wealth and opportunity are not shared by everyone.

Toronto leads the country when it comes to income inequality, according to Vital Signs. Between 1999 and 2016, the top 20 per cent have seen their net worth increase by an average of more than $600,000 while the bottom 20 per cent averaged just $2,100.

So, over more than a decade and half, some people have seen their wealth go up by the equivalent of a home while others have accumulated the equivalent of a living room furniture set.

The report points to housing prices rising four times faster than income and rent rising twice as fast over the last decade. And while unemployment is the lowest it’s been in decades, the jobs are increasingly not very good ones.

Temporary jobs grew five times faster than permanent ones and part-time work twice as fast as full-time. They come with little to no benefits or stability. Newcomers and racialized people disproportionately work in these precarious jobs that leave workers constantly at risk of plunging into poverty.

When the federal parties talk about jobs on the campaign trail, it needs to be a conversation about good jobs. When they talk about making life more affordable, they should be clear about who they’re talking about and how they’ll deliver.

The Vital Signs report is a depressing but timely reminder that income and wealth are highly co-related with race, where people were born, and where they live now.

None of that should define anyone’s experiences or prospects for the future in a city as great as Toronto.