United Way income inequality report highlights growing divide

A new United Way report says rising income inequality is a big problem for Toronto that threatens the very idea that hard work will lead to success.

Inequality carving sharp lines between city's neighbourhoods

Toronto has experienced an 'extreme' growth of income inequality, the United Way warns. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

A new United Way report says rising income inequality is a big problem for Toronto that threatens the very idea that hard work will lead to success.

The report, The Opportunity Equation, will be the first of a series of reports on income inequality that the United Way hopes will spark a city-wide debate on the topic. United Way President and CEO Susan McIsaac said the report is based on hard data, but driven by community frustration.

"People were really concerned about young people and access to opportunity for people that are arriving in our city," she told CBC Radio’s Metro Morning.

Simply working hard is no longer enough.- Susan McIsaac, United Way President and CEO

Increasingly, she said, those people are being told there is opportunity in the city, but finding those opportunities are more about who you are and who you know.

"Simply working hard is no longer enough," McIsaac said.

Among the 25-page report's key findings:

  • Income inequality in Toronto (based on Statistics Canada data) has grown by 31 per cent in last 25 years.
  • The income split between the city’s rich and poor neighbourhoods grew by 96 per cent from 1980-2010.
  • Seventy-three per cent of people surveyed for the study said working hard isn’t enough to get ahead.

McIsaac said the city needs to find a way to overcome the inequality issue before it further exacerbates problems like youth alienation and crime.

Kofi Hope is a director at Community Empowering Enterprises, an organization focused on helping black youth attain financial security. He said the inequality he sees isn’t just one barrier.

For many, reliability of transit, access to education and even their home address all play a factor in securing work. Hope gave the example of people living in the Jane and Finch neighbourhood changing their address on resumes, and suddenly getting more call-backs from employers.

"There’s that stigma when you have Jane Street in your address," Hope said.

Others, Hope said, have a hard time being reliable in the workplace because of the issues swirling around their homes lives.

"Some folks, it’s just getting them out of survival mode and into stability," he said.

While several programs are trying to address the issue, Hope said it’s a big issue that no one entity can take on by itself. And, he said, the city needs to find a way to fix the unequal workforce before it causes more social issues.

"You become disengaged from your community because you just don’t see this as a society where change is possible," Hope said, of those affected by inequality.

Metro Morning is running a special series called Just-in-Time Jobs: Getting by in a world of part-time, contract and precarious work. The program is also hosting a special town hall discussion on the topic on Wednesday, March 4 at 7 p.m. ET. You can find more information about that event here


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