Brampton Mayor Linda Jeffrey says the city must strengthen its social service offerings after a United Way report revealed that more than half of Peel Region residents are now considered low-income earners.
The report found that that percentage of the population has dramatically increased over the past 35 years.
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In 1980, just two per cent of Peel residents were considered low-income — meaning they earned between 60 and 80 per cent of the Toronto area's average income of $14,384. In 2000, that jumped to 22 per cent (average Toronto-area income was $35,618.) As of 2015, low-income residents make up 47 per cent of Peel Region, with an additional 4 per cent considered "very low" earners. (The average income in the Toronto area was $50,478 in 2015.)
"I think it's pretty disturbing," Jeffrey said on CBC Radio's Metro Morning. "It's not what you want when you're trying to grow a city."
Jeffrey said the problem was exacerbated due to poor decisions over the past few decades in an effort to keep up with Brampton's explosive population growth.
"We, as a city, really were just focused on building houses," she said. "This study, I think, reflects the kind of services that are needed."
'Social infrastructure is not keeping pace'
The United Way says the availability of those services — which include housing, education, health services — has lagged far behind the growth across Peel.
"Social infrastructure is not keeping pace with need and so you've got a demand of supports close to home and not an abundance of supply," United Way CEO Daniele Zanotti said on Metro Morning.
He says a continued lack of those services will only make it harder for low income earners to repopulate Peel's once formidable middle class, which made up 86 per cent of the region in 1980.
"We run the risk of neighbourhoods, young people, families — who no matter how hard they try to climb — that ladder of social mobility is increasingly steeper, the rungs are spread farther," he said.
While the report painted a gloomy picture of income inequality in Peel, its authors found similar results across the Greater Toronto Area.
"In comparison to the other metropolitan areas, Toronto has become the most unequal and the most polarized," the report reads.
Jeffrey says Brampton is already working to "change the kinds of investments" being made to address the issues contributing to inequality.
She pointed to a need for improved transit, and highlighted efforts to bring a university to the area as a potential equalizer for residents pursuing a higher education.
"I have great confidence that the next time we measure this, we're going to see some improvements," she said.