Peel. Toronto. York Region. No matter where you live within the region, you know that poverty remains a real and ongoing threat. But, if the past year was any indication, there’s lots of proof of how we, as a community, are fighting back.
Today, we are pleased to share United Way Greater Toronto’s 2017–18 annual report. It highlights all the change that your generous donations, on-the-ground volunteer efforts and tireless work on the front lines helped to create—in the places, populations and priorities most impacted by poverty.
Watch this video for President & CEO Daniele Zanotti’s summary of an eventful 2017:
Then, for all the ways that your support fuelled our region-wide uprising of care, read the full report here.
Professor Wayne Lewchuk, McMaster University and Stephanie Procyk, Manager of Research, Public Policy and Evaluation, United Way Greater Toronto, are co-authors of Getting Left Behind: Who gained and who didn’t in an improving labour market, a newly-released report on precarious employment in the GTHA.
From people rocking their side hustle to talk of the gig economy – we know the working world has changed. But don’t let the cute terms fool you – this work is precarious and that’s a problem.
Precarious employment has imprinted itself on the GTHA job market: 37.2% of workers are still in some degree of precarious employment. That likely means they don’t have health benefits, don’t have pension plans and may not even know next week’s work schedule. They can’t plan for their future, let alone coordinate childcare for the start of the school year.
It’s more than stressful. One third of all workers still report poor mental health. 40% of workers report that, despite the improved economy, anxiety interferes with their personal and family lives.
While we’ve seen significant gains in the labour market in the past six years, we aren’t seeing the changes we would expect. While GTHA unemployment fell from 8.2% to 6.3% and Canadian real GDP per hour worked increased by 7.2%, wages didn’t keep pace. Real average weekly wages only grew by 1%. Temporary jobs grew almost double the rate of permanent jobs.
The labour market is becoming more polarized, not less. Those who had access to stable, secure jobs in 2011 gained even more access in 2017. And those who didn’t, were left behind.
When it comes to landing a secure job in a growing economy, a combination of gender, race and having a university degree determine whether or not someone gets left behind. Only white men and white women with university degrees and racialized men with university degrees gained job security between 2011 and 2017. Racialized women with university degrees and all workers without university degrees stagnated in terms of job security.
It’s clear that economic growth alone cannot solve the issues of precarious employment and labour market polarization. We need to take action to ensure that no one gets left behind. How? By expanding decent work through employment standards and ladders to opportunity. By creating a floor of basic income and social supports available to precarious workers. We need to ensure that background and circumstances are not barriers to the labour market.
If you’re running a business, running a household or even running your day, you know you need all hands on deck. In a growing economy we can’t afford for people to be left behind and we need everyone to play a role in addressing these challenges. Read our latest report, get informed and get engaged with the issues.
Effat Ghassemi, Executive Director at Newcomer Centre of Peel, has served thousands of newcomer families upon their arrival in Canada by providing guidance and support with employment, continuing education, network building and other settlement issues. As a tireless advocate for gender equality and racial harmony, she has worked to increase social inclusion and innovation. She is firmly committed to compassion and social justice for the most disadvantaged in our community.
Newcomer Centre of Peel is proud to be part of Ontario for All – a collaborative convened by United Way with close to 90 organizations across the GTA and beyond. During the provincial election the collaborative is highlighting five priorities we know to be fundamental to a fair and inclusive Ontario. One of these priorities, Building an economy with fair and equitable opportunities and decent work for all, and the newcomer experience in general, are issues of keen interest for the Newcomer Centre of Peel and of personal interest to me.
My Story is Our Story. Ontario needs immigrants to mitigate its aging population and low birth rate as well as accommodating the labour shortage in Urban and Rural Areas. Peel, Toronto and York enjoy significantly higher rates of immigration relative to the rest of Canada. In all three regions, immigrants make up approximately half of the respective populations whereas immigrants represent just over a fifth (21.9 %) of the Canadian population.
To support and offset the negative economic and fiscal impacts of a labour force shortage, Ontario needs to make a great effort promoting and welcoming newcomers to its province. I came to Mississauga 3 decades ago with my family including 3 boys – worked very hard to settle and obtain my first job not even related to my education and experiences as a high school teacher. I was thrilled and happy to do it – I knew that if I did my best on my first job other doors would have opened to me. It happened – one door after another. But I suffered so much – low pay jobs and not relevant to my education and facing discrimination as an immigrant woman. Despite being highly educated and experienced, newcomers and immigrants are more likely to work in precarious employment and live in poverty. My goals at Newcomer Centre of Peel (NCP) are exactly related to my immigration trajectory – providing meaningful services to newcomer families for their economic and social integration with less discrimination and less distress. We are providing employment opportunities in an urban GTA area and recently focusing on rural employment.
Through the Rural Employment Initiative, which connects immigrants located in the GTA to employers in rural communities that have sustainable job opportunities, thereby facilitating their relocation from the metropolitan GTA to rural communities throughout Ontario. This is being done while providing diversity training to employers, economic development officers, workforce planning boards and other community partners.
Building an economy with fair and equitable opportunities for newcomers is a systemic issue. To address it and make meaningful change – we need programs like the one above coupled with tangible policy solutions. Therefore, I am calling on all four parties to develop policy to support employment equity and access to quality jobs for recent immigrants, and clearer credential recognition for Internationally Educated Professionals.
Until then, my story continues to be the stories of newcomers who dreamt of being in a country where there are equitable opportunities for all.
Our guest blogger this week is Daniele Zanotti, President & CEO of United Way Greater Toronto. With more than 20 years of experience in the public and non-profit sectors, he has earned a reputation as an accomplished, strategic, and energetic leader. During his tenure, the organization has applied an increasingly regional lens to its work, collaborating with organizations and community partners in Peel, Toronto and York to fight local poverty in all its forms.
In 2008, something transformative happened in Ontario. The provincial government introduced the Ontario Child Benefit, direct financial assistance to low-income families with children. It was a cornerstone of the Poverty Reduction Strategy that was unanimously adopted by all three parties at Queens Park and supported by a wide network of community organizations across Ontario, including United Way. The OCB helped lift tens of thousands of children out of poverty at a time when the province was hit hard by one of the worst economic recessions in recent memory. The OCB proved that when implemented right, bold policy and investments that put community at the heart of decision making can help build a stronger future.
Ten years later, the fight against poverty is still very much on. Despite progress that has been made in reducing child poverty, much work remains to be accomplished. Day after day, many community organizations are once again stepping up to raise their voices on the issues that matter to the residents they serve. The movement is called Ontario for All – it has gained momentum across Toronto, Peel and York Region, and become a new front in the newly-merged United Way Greater Toronto’s fight against local poverty. United Way has brought together many of its funded agencies and other community partners to work together on highlighting five priorities that are critical in creating an inclusive, connected and prosperous province where everyone belongs. They are:
• Fully implement the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
• Build an economy with fair and equitable opportunities and decent work for all
• Create pathways out of poverty by ensuring that everyone has income security and the supports they need to live with dignity
• Ensure affordable, appropriate and safe housing is available to all
• Invest in inclusive, healthy communities with affordable and quality childcare and public education, pharmacare and dental programs, transit and transportation, and community programs and services
These five priorities have been shared with all four parties in Ontario, with the invitation for them to work with Ontario for All partners in including these in their election platforms. But beyond helping to put a focus on poverty reduction during the campaign, this process has done something more powerful. It has built an uprising of care in neighbourhoods across the region, where at least 150 conversations have happened and more are underway. At least 80 organizations have endorsed the five priorities, and all political parties and their candidates are being encouraged to make poverty reduction a focus of their work.
United Way and many community organizations have co-created a plan to engage each other, their boards and staff, residents, volunteers, local election candidates and the media on why these five priorities are important for our communities. So poverty reduction is making its way into agendas of board meetings, local resident circles, media interviews and online social media activity.
Because, our hope remains, any or all of these priorities could become the bold, transformative investments that the OCB was in 2008. And that is one way to secure a brighter, more secure future for our communities.
If a friend mentions they need job hunting tips, legal advice, or even housing help, do you know where they can access resources? In many cases, the answer is the same for each of these issues: their local Community Hub.
Community Hubs provide everything from seniors’ programming to English classes for newcomers to information for parents, all within one space.
“Many people might not even realize that their neighbourhood has this wealth of resources all under one roof,” says Alex Dow, United Way’s Director of Neighbourhoods. And even if they can’t directly help, Community Hubs can connect an individual with further resources.
Here are four reasons why it’s worth checking out your local Hub:
1. Hubs address multiple needs
Often someone who needs help in one area could use a hand in other ways as well. A newcomer who needs English classes can also access employment support. Someone who is struggling with parenting can get support along with counselling services. In fact, these “wraparound” supports provided by Community Hubs are vital to overall well-being and help create a strong social safety net across our neighbourhoods. United Way’s Hub in Rexdale, for example, provides everything from health services to social programs, as well as legal help and cultural assistance.
2. The whole family can find support
All of the hubs offer a variety of programming specially tailored to local residents. Go to United Way’s Bathurst-Finch Community Hub and you’ll find seniors’ programs, breastfeeding support and childcare. AccessPoint on Danforth provides health care, LGBTQ+ programs and youth peer mentoring. “The Hubs are really designed for people of all ages,” says Dow. “You might come in looking for a program or a service for your child, but if an elderly parent lives with you, you’ll find activities for them, too.”
3. They create opportunities to volunteer
Don’t be surprised if your friend wants to continue going to the local Hub after receiving the help they needed. “After accessing services, many people like to give back,” says Dow, and there are many different types of opportunities to pitch in, including working in a community garden, running classes, helping with promotions, participating in workshops, or leading cooking classes or playgroups.
4. Hubs help people connect
The connections and friendships that can come from Community Hubs are one of their biggest advantages, says Dow. That’s because meeting neighbours and learning more about the community’s needs can lead to increased engagement with the neighbourhood and a better understanding of the issues that are affecting it—not to mention a desire to help.
Looking to access services at a Community Hub near you? Try calling 211, a helpline supported by United Way, to connect with one of these vital community resources in your neighbourhood.
When you’re searching for help—whether you need legal advice, mental health resources or financial aid—Cynthia Drebot, Executive Director of the North End Women’s Centre in Winnipeg, says you should look first in your own community. “It’s not just a matter of convenience,” she says, “it’s because the organizations often understand the needs of their community and tailor their resources to suit them.”
One of the best ways to find these resources, she says, is by asking other people in your network. In fact, community organizations get most of their clientele by word of mouth, and that can often lead to resources that you may not realize are right in your own backyard. Case in point: family resource centres, which offer a variety of services, from helping people access food and housing to programs for literacy and social activities.
And once you find an appropriate organization, you may be surprised by the extent to which they can help, says Drebot. Many of the organizations work to decrease the barriers that prevent people from being able to get help in the first place—for example, the North End Women’s Centre provides transit tokens for those who need help getting to the Centre to attend workshops, and free on-site childcare for women who are accessing its programs. Through the Centre, women can work at a thrift shop in exchange for the organization paying their damage deposit or their hydro or phone bill.
“We have women who come to our drop-in who may have originally walked in the door not knowing what we do, but we can set them up with up to a year of free counselling to work through the challenges they may be facing, such as domestic violence. They can also sign up to take a mindfulness or self-esteem workshop with a group of other women,” says Drebot. “And that idea of connecting with other women is huge—it reduces that sense of isolation.” That’s something that is valuable to everyone.
By connecting with others in your neighbourhood, you may receive far more than you expect—not just a solution to that original problem, but a circle of support that will help in all areas of your life.
Landing that first real gig hasn’t ever been easy, but experts agree that today’s youth are facing a more challenging economic landscape than their parents did. Employers receive hundreds of applications for every posting, and young job hunters might have plenty of education, but often lack necessary office experience and soft skills. What’s more, the labour market is increasingly digitized, says Vass Bednar, who chaired the Federal Expert Panel on Youth Employment. “Not only is the nature of work different for this generation, but the job search is fundamentally different, too, because it’s online,” she says. “This means that there is more labour market information than ever before, but increased demand for entry-level jobs, which makes it harder for young people to transition from school to work.” So while contacting job banks and people within your personal networks is a good start, starting a satisfying career often takes more.
Here are five underrated career resources and strategies you may not have thought of trying.
1. Try a community agency
Job banks, the online sites where employers post available opportunities, can be useful for finding work quickly, but they don’t always reflect all the available opportunities.
“About 80 to 90 per cent of jobs are not publicly posted,” says Annique Farrell, Manager, Community of Practice at United Way Toronto & York Region. “If you don’t have a strong résumé and cover letter, and if you’re not connected, your chances of being hired are not as high.”
But, Farrell says, there’s another option: community agencies. There are a variety of agencies across Toronto and York Region that offer employment services for youth. In many cases, young job hunters aren’t always aware of the programs available, but they’re well worth investigating.
United Way, for instance, supports a program called netWORKS, which offers career-oriented mentoring and networking opportunities for young people in partnership with employers across Toronto and York Region. The program also helps youth facing barriers to employment, including newcomer status and poverty, get job-ready with résumé workshops and mock interviews.
Rather than combing through hundreds of job postings online, Bednar suggests using Magnet. This online career search tool, created by Ryerson University, integrates with job sites like LinkedIn, Monster and Workopolis, and matches users with potential jobs based on skills, experience and preferences.
It’s likely the youth in your life already have social media accounts, but it may be worth taking a second look at their online personas. That’s because a strong online presence tailored to professional opportunities can help job hunters stand out. On Twitter, youth should follow companies and people whose careers align with their interests, because job openings are often announced on their social media accounts first. Facebook can also be a good place to search for career groups that regularly host networking opportunities for people in specific industries.
Virtual reality isn’t just for gamers and tech junkies. Now it can give job hunters exposure to job experiences and environments to help them decide if they’ve chosen the right career. The Learning Partnership has created dozens of 360-degree videos of specific jobs in all sorts of industries, from construction to hospitality.
Bednar says that virtual-reality job testing is always productive, but it is most useful for people interested in skilled trades. “The skilled trades are great jobs, but have very distinct pathways, and if you start training to be a welder or a roofer and suddenly find out you’re afraid of heights, there’s a lot of sunk costs with that,” she says.
5. Try Tinder—for jobs
There are several job apps that mimic Tinder’s swipe-to-like model. Jobr pulls information from your LinkedIn page, not Facebook. Blonk, on the other hand, requires users to upload a short video of themselves answering entrepreneur Peter Thiel’s favourite interview question: “What is one thing I believe everybody disagrees with me about?”
Parents who want to support their kids in their first job hunt may be tempted to think back to lessons learned from their own moms and dads. This might elicit eye rolls and audible sighs from your 20-somethings—and they’d be justified. According to Timothy Lang, CEO and president of Youth Employment Services (YES), the job market has changed drastically since you started your career.
“There are fewer jobs, and many employers are only offering part-time or contract positions,” says Lang. Young people will have to change jobs many times throughout their careers as a result. And even securing a position in the first place is often more challenging than it was in the past.
But there are several ways that parents can help their children set themselves up for job-hunting success. Here’s how.
1. Support experimentation
Encourage youth to “cast a wide net” when thinking about where to start their career, Lang suggests. Young job seekers should explore options that they may not have considered in the past, even in areas that they don’t initially find interesting. “We have seen thousands of examples where people end up having very fulfilling careers in areas they did not know they would even enjoy,” says Lang. And, he continues, even if that experimentation doesn’t lead to a career, the skills and experience gained will help when looking for the next job.
2. Help them understand their skills
One of the biggest missteps for those new to the workforce is not understanding how their previous experience could relate to the job they want. As a result, many young people stumble when writing their resumés. They may not realize that retail experience, for example, provides them with soft skills, including communication and customer service, which are attractive to employers of all kinds. “Youth today are also very adaptable, and that’s a huge benefit for those coming into a workforce where they will constantly need to upgrade their skills and knowledge,” says Lang. “Parents can help them articulate these attributes on resumés and in interviews.”
3. Restrain yourself
Don’t be overzealous in your desire to help or protect your adult children, though. Lang says occasionally he’s seen parents go so far as to attend job interviews with their kids. “That never ends well,” he says.
4. Stay positive
This is, perhaps, the most important way you can support your young job hunter. While putting out 30 resumés and receiving rejections for all of them can be incredibly discouraging, parents can help youth see the big picture. “At the end of the day, yes, people want experience from a new hire. But they really want people that will fit in well, are positive and have a good work ethic. I have personally hired people who sometimes have less experience, but show they are good team players and learn quickly,” says Lang.
If the young person in your life need help with their job hunt, look to resources like Youth Employment Services. YES has career counsellors available, skill-building workshops and even a job development team that helps youth find employment. And check out Canada’s Top 100 Employers’ annual list of the country’s top employers for young people.
Growing income volatility is causing tough financial challenges and mounting stress for millions of Canadians, according to a new report by TD Bank Group. TD’s research found that unpredictable and variable income is associated with lower overall financial health for those affected, as well as lower financial confidence and increased financial stress.
Income fluctuations are tied to the rise of precarious employment in the changing labour market, as highlighted in United Way Toronto and York Region’s ongoing research. It shows that nearly half of all workers in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) are facing this new reality of precarious work. These workers are more likely to experience irregular income, suffer more anxiety, and have more difficulty making ends meet. This, in turn, undermines their family, work and social relationships and overall quality of life.
While the labour market has changed, our employment laws and income security policies have been slow to adapt. Most of these policies were developed at a time when standard, full-time permanent jobs were the norm, and they haven’t undergone major changes since.
A changing labour market doesn’t have to be a bad thing. To make it work for everyone though, we need a coordinated response by government, labour, employers and community organizations to ensure that those who are most vulnerable receive the supports and protections they need and policies are in place to mitigate negative impacts on people, households, businesses and communities.
This is why the Government of Ontario’s imminent response to the Changing Workplaces Review Final Report is so timely and critical. Keeping our labour markets dynamic and flexible, while also supporting people engaged in non-standard employment, requires new policy and institutional approaches.
Finding the right balance between competitiveness and job stability, and between the needs of employers and workers will not be easy. But Canadian employers have shown interest in learning more about the impacts of this new reality for their workers and are already engaged in discussions with organizations like United Way, KPMG and Prosper Canada to understand how businesses can also contribute to and benefit from a more secure workforce.
We are at an important crossroads for Ontario and leadership from all sectors is critical to building the momentum and support needed to modernize our employment standards and practices. If we can build consensus, work together, and move forward with purpose, we can get at the root causes of growing income volatility and reduce its financial and human toll on individuals, families, communities and our economy.
We look forward to the Government of Ontario’s proposed legislation later this year and a thoughtful, balanced agenda that builds inclusive prosperity for all Ontarians. With the right policies, we can help our businesses to thrive, while also enabling Ontarians to achieve the financial stability they seek and the ability, once again, to plan for and invest in the future they want for themselves and their families.
It will take all of us working together to develop a labour market that works for everyone, and we encourage the provincial government to exercise its leadership on this issue and set Ontario on the right course.
Job insecurity has become a hot-button issue in today’s rapidly changing labour market. In fact, we know from our research that almost half of all workers in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area are working in some degree of precarious employment. This has a major impact on the wellbeing of individuals and their families, trapping them in a cycle of insecure employment that makes it difficult to move into better opportunities. The soon-to-be released Changing Workplaces Review is a chance to further spark conversation around this vital issue and to highlight the importance of employment reform and its impact on individuals, families, communities and businesses across our region. Here are five reasons why employment reform matters.
1. The labour market has changed—and we need to keep pace: Job insecurity has been rising while stable employment has been eroding since the 1970s. Keeping our labour markets dynamic and flexible, and at the same time, supporting workers outside of standard employment, requires new approaches to policies and institutions. Other jurisdictions in the U.S. and Australia have already taken action to give people in precarious jobs better protection and more options for building a good life. For example, New York City extended paid leave for most employees in workplaces of 5 or more and unpaid leave for most people in workplaces of 1-4 workers. Our region is ready to step up to meet these challenges head-on in order to achieve a balance between our social and economic objectives.
2. It helps level the playing field for our region’s most vulnerable individuals: A community is only as strong as the sum of its parts. In this new labour market, the most vulnerable workers are often those that are impacted the most negatively. People who are precariously employed experience penalties that others in stable, secure jobs don’t face. For example, many precarious workers aren’t formally recognized as employees, and aren’t protected by the Employment Standards Act. And only 12 per cent of those in precarious employment are paid if they miss a day’s work. It’s these workers who need the most protection. Employment reform will bring us one step closer to giving these individuals a fair chance at a good life.
3. A job is more than just a means to an end: In fact, we have an opportunity to make jobs a “pathway” to income and employment security. Many precariously employed people have a hard time moving into better opportunities—partly because there is no provision for preventing different treatment of workers based on employment relationship or hours of work in the Employment Standards Act. Employment reform can help people build futures that are strong, secure and prosperous by eliminating this disparity in compensation.
4. It’s good for business: Changes in the labour market aren’t just hurting people—they’re increasingly seen as having a negative effect on businesses. When people have unpredictable lives, they’re not engaged in their work and they also make more errors, according to Zeynep Ton, an adjunct associate professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management who has researched the topic extensively. However, we also know that when businesses invest in the security of their workforces, there tends to be less turnover and higher productivity. The bottom line? Good jobs aren’t just good for employees and communities, they’re good for business too. That’s why United Way Toronto & York Region has signed on to the Better Way to Build the Economy Alliance—a coalition of organizations from the community sector, private sector and labour. The Alliance has put together a compelling website to share the secret to a key success of several local employers: an investment in decent work.
5. It’s good for communities: We know from our research that precarious employment traps people in a cycle that can be hard to break free from. This impacts individual lives—but it also impacts their communities. Workers who are precariously employed often delay starting families and are less likely to volunteer or give back to their community. There are economic and social consequences for the neighbourhoods where these people live.
We look forward to the upcoming conversation around employment reform, which represents the next major step to strengthening our economy by enabling a dynamic, engaged and productive workforce.
Daniyal Zuberi RBC Chair & Associate Professor of Social Policy, University of Toronto
Daniyal Zuberi is the RBC Chair and Associate Professor of Social Policy at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work and School of Public Policy & Governance at the University of Toronto. In 2015, he was elected to the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists of the Royal Society of Canada. He was previously the William Lyon Mackenzie King Research Fellow at Harvard University. His innovative social policy research has made important contributions to the study of urban poverty, inequality, health, education, employment and social welfare. He has authored three books and other publications that examine the impact of public policy on vulnerable and disadvantaged populations in Canada and the United States. Imagine a Cityspoke with Daniyal for our ‘Ask the Expert’ series to provide a big-picture lens on poverty across North America.
1. What are some of the common drivers that contribute to poverty across North America, whether in Winnipeg or Washington?
Poverty in North America is multi-faceted, affecting many individuals, families, and communities. The real cause of poverty is the lack of income. Many people are working longer and harder simply to tread water, living only one or two missed paycheques away from major financial hardship. With the explosion of precarious employment, too many households struggle to balance work and family life requirements as individuals take on multiple jobs to make ends meet and deal with the stress and anxiety of supporting their families. A job is no longer enough and they struggle as the “working poor” trying to find affordable housing and childcare for their families. For those unable to find work, they receive very limited support. Most of these individuals can’t access employment insurance benefits due to program restrictions. They join tens of thousands of others on wait lists for housing assistance and subsidized childcare as well as heavily-subscribed charitable programs such as food banks. Instead of helping and enabling these individuals and families, we trap them in poverty, failing to provide the training, support and education they need to upgrade their skills and find secure living-wage employment.
2. Discuss the recent U.S. election and how it has put a spotlight on the growing issue of rising income inequality.
The failure to adequately address the growing insecurity experienced by all too many North American households is one cause of the unexpected election outcome in the United States. Most of the economic gains over the past several decades have flowed exclusively to those at the top, especially in the U.S. Growing economic insecurity threatens social cohesion and people react to fears that their fortunes have stagnated, or that they’re falling behind. Countries that are more equal, or those with narrower income gaps, have much higher social development outcomes. Life expectancy is longer, infant mortality is lower, there is greater social trust, lower crime and incarceration rates, less mental illness and better health and educational outcomes. Importantly, there is also more equality of opportunity. One of the best ways to address growing inequalities is to support those struggling at the bottom of the socioeconomic hierarchy.
3. How have changing labour market conditions, including precarious employment, impacted poverty?
The changing labour market is a major contributor to growing poverty in North America. With a shift away from manufacturing to the service sector in a globalized economy, we’ve seen a rapid expansion of precarious employment including poverty wage, part-time, and insecure jobs that fail to lift individuals and families above the poverty line. Our employment protections and social welfare policies have failed to evolve to protect people from poverty in this new economy. When hours are cut or workers are laid off, many can’t receive support from employment insurance because they haven’t worked enough hours to qualify. It’s important to note that these changes do not affect all workers equally. Women and racialized minorities, especially new immigrants, are the most likely to work in these precarious jobs. They’re forced to make impossible tradeoffs between working extra hours, but spending more on childcare, paying for rent or food. This is true in both Canada and the United States.
4. Discuss the changing nature of poverty in North America and how it differs in urban, suburban and rural contexts.
Poverty exists in cities, rural areas, and suburban areas. Many of the causes and consequences of poverty in these three contexts are similar, but important differences also exist. For example, poor individuals and families in the suburbs are less visible. In Vaughan, a wealthy area in York Region, we see “hidden homelessness” where people are doubled or even tripled up living in other people’s basements. In suburban and rural areas, there are also problems with social isolation that also include greater challenges in terms of accessing transportation for services and employment opportunities. But the urban poor face some unique challenges too. Especially if high housing costs force them to live in stigmatized areas with high concentrations of poverty, where transit is less accessible, less frequent, and of poor quality. While it may be easier to access services for individuals living in urban neighbourhoods, living in a high poverty urban neighbourhood can also it make more difficult for a person to successfully obtain employment as a result of discrimination on the basis of ethnicity and postal code. It can also require coping with more challenges including violence and schools that lack resources to address the major challenges facing their student populations. Fundamentally, in urban, suburban and rural contexts, poverty comes down to a lack of resources.
5. Is there a single, best way to tackle poverty? If not, what are some common solutions we should be working towards?
No, I don’t think there’s a single solution. We need to continue to promote proactive policies and programs to prevent poverty and support struggling individuals and families. For example, we can raise social assistance rates to bring those households up above the poverty line. Expanding access to high-quality early childhood education will increase maternal employment and incomes by sending more mothers into the workplace, generating greater tax revenue and also reducing poverty. The research is clear that “housing first” and harm reduction approaches are far more effective than punitive measures to address problems such as homelessness and addiction. The latter results in an extremely expensive, reactive system where we end up spending more than required for policing, incarceration, hospitalization, and shelter services. We also need to focus on issues like raising the minimum wage, addressing a growing mental health crisis and providing individuals, including youth, with the training and support they need to find good jobs. Solutions at the local level are also important and include investments in high quality transit and community infrastructure. These include things like community hubs and health centres, parks, and community gardens that can really improve the quality of life for people in low-income neighbourhoods. These programs, along with significant policy reforms, could work together to reduce poverty quite dramatically.
6. What is the role of the non-profits like United Way in mitigating the effects of poverty?
We have a healthy and vibrant social services sector. We need to continue to build on that and expand it. United Way and other organizations do great work in providing services and supports for vulnerable and at-risk populations. United Way does a particularly great job of raising awareness of important issues like precarious employment through its research. It also brings together coalitions to mobilize, to advocate for policy reforms and new programs and to fundamentally address some of the root causes of poverty with the goal of eradicating it.
7. Can we end poverty?
Absolutely, yes. Fundamentally we have to understand that we can end poverty if we have the political will. There are many places in the world—including Scandinavian countries—that have largely eliminated poverty. But it’s still extremely rare. Canada has done a lot more in terms of supporting those living on a low income and reducing poverty compared to the United States where we’ve seen a lot of cutbacks and a really rapid increase in deep poverty. Although there is a long way to go, I don’t think we should ever lose hope. I think, in fact, this is an important reminder why this work is so tremendously important. We can’t stop fighting to improve the quality of life for people living in poverty. One of my friends is a congressman in the United States and he recently sent out an email with Dr. Martin Luther King’s message: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
Kofi Hope Executive Director, CEE Centre for Young Black Professionals
Meet Kofi Hope. He’s a leading youth advocate and prestigious Rhodes scholar who has dedicated his life’s work to amplifying the voices of Black youth who face barriers such as poverty and racialization. He’s also made it his mission to empower these young people to take charge of their futures by focusing on innovative solutions that connect youth to each other—and their communities.
WHO: As the Executive Director of the CEE Centre for Young Black Professionals, a United Way Youth Challenge Fund legacy initiative, Kofi has played a pivotal role in connecting youth with the holistic supports they need for a promising future. This includes creating pathways to meaningful jobs, part of United Way’s bold new Youth Success Strategy that puts the long-term economic security of some of our region’s most vulnerable young people front-and-centre. “It’s not enough to just move a young person from unemployed to employed,” explains Kofi. “You have to build up the person by focusing on the unique aspects of their life.” And he’s doing exactly that—recognizing that stable employment is crucial to economic security—and a springboard to a promising future. “When you empower a person to take control of their life, they realize the barriers they’re facing will not be there forever,” he says. “They’re just problems to be solved and overcome.”
In fact, helping young people overcome barriers has been a life-long affair. He’s been a child and youth champion since he was a teen, organizing programming to address the growing needs of kids in his community. By university, he was advocating on behalf of Black youth as the founder of the Black Youth Coalition Against Violence. And by 28, he had a PhD from the highly-esteemed University of Oxford.
WHY: Kofi’s ability to bring together and mobilize community members, business leaders and decision-makers in a common cause of action is inspiring. In addition to his groundbreaking work with CEE, he’s also led meaningful change beyond our borders. He’s a passionate public speaker who has captivated audiences overseas, and has even advised on a land claim struggle in South Africa, effectively bridging the gap between community and authority as a cross-cultural communicator and negotiator.
WHAT’S NEXT: Earlier this year, Kofi joined the board of the Toronto Environmental Alliance where he’s tackling important social issues that intersect with environmental concerns. “Environmental and social justice are not competing causes,” explains Kofi. “Good public transit helps reduce our carbon footprint, but also opens up economic and social opportunities to marginalized people in underserved areas. You’re saving the environment and building a more equitable society for everyone.”
That’s the idea behind groundbreaking new Community Benefits legislation that will help connect residents from priority neighbourhoods with apprenticeship and work opportunities on large infrastructure projects like Metrolinx’s Eglinton Crosstown transit line.
Watch this video to hear more from our very own Pedro Barata, VP, Communications and Public Affairs, on what’s next for Community Benefits.
That means that in addition to building much-needed transit that connects communities, these projects can also provide pathways to better jobs, and more secure futures, for people living in poverty. This includes young people who face significant barriers to employment.
United Way was proud to play a key role in bringing this legislation to fruition by working with our partners—including Crosslinx, labour unions, the Toronto Community Benefits Network, the provincial government and the City of Toronto—to get the green light on this exciting initiative.
Meet Hibaq Gelle. She’s a community mobilizer and a powerful youth champion committed to bringing good jobs to people in her Rexdale neighbourhood. Using innovative ways of working, she’s empowering community members to take ownership of their neighbourhood and revolutionizing the way community change is made.
WHO: For Hibaq, building vibrant communities isn’t just a pastime—it’s a commitment she lives and breathes every day. As a graduate of CITY Leaders, a leadership program co-certified by United Way and the University of Toronto, Hibaq knows a thing or two about empowering youth. A staple in many priority neighbourhoods across Toronto, she’s helped youth facing barriers, including poverty and racialization, connect to the programs and supports they need to thrive.
But Hibaq is not only passionate about bringing opportunities to youth here at home; her impact can be felt province-wide. As a political appointee on the Premier’s Council on Youth Opportunities, Hibaq—one of just 25 people selected by the Premier—represents Ontario’s youth by bringing their voices to the table. Most notably, Hibaq advised on Ontario’s Youth Action Plan, a crucial $55 million investment in programs and services to tackle issues like youth violence and unemployment so that young people can transition successfully into adulthood.
WHY: It’s no surprise Hibaq has become a well-known name in Rexdale—community activism is a family affair. “Growing up, my mom was a go-to resource in the community,” says Hibaq. “Whether she was organizing women’s programming or helping newcomers navigate community resources, if you needed support, she was the person you would turn to.” And although Hibaq has undoubtedly followed in her mom’s footsteps, she’s definitely carved her own path. “Young people are not succeeding in the way that they should be,” says Hibaq. “By engaging non-traditional stakeholders and community members, we can start building new tools to tackle local issues in entirely different ways.”
One of the big barriers: unemployment. The tool: Community Benefits Agreements—partnerships that connect residents from priority neighbourhoods to work opportunities on local infrastructure projects. It’s a new way of working that United Way is also behind. Just last year, our advocacy led to provincial legislation that ensures Community Benefits will be included in all provincially-funded infrastructure projects moving forward.
WHAT’S NEXT: While a fellow in MaRS’ prestigious Studio Y program, Hibaq created the My Rexdale project, where she began working to tap into planned infrastructure projects in Rexdale—like the proposed casino at Woodbine Racetrack—to connect youth, precariously employed individuals and newcomers to work opportunities spurred as a result of planned development. Through community outreach (and the massive billboard she leveraged next to Highway 27), the idea is on its way to having a big impact in the lives of residents—who are equally thrilled at the prospect of good jobs coming to their neighbourhood.
And Hibaq’s Community Benefits work is just getting started. So far, she’s established a core team of community builders and is assembling a steering committee for the My Rexdale project. She’s also gotten Rexdale residents on-board through community consultations, door-to-door outreach and social media—educating community members about the investments coming so they can advocate on behalf of their community. “We need a strong base of support before we start conversations with big stakeholders,” says Hibaq. “The community is united behind it. This is just the beginning.”
Denise Andrea Campbell Director, Social Policy, Analysis and Research City of Toronto
As the City of Toronto’s Director of Social Policy, Analysis and Research, Denise Andrea Campbell has worked tirelessly to champion poverty reductionand youth success strategies in priority neighbourhoods. She has advised on strategy for leading foundations including The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation and has also worked internationally on race and gender policies in numerous United Nations forums. In her guest blog post, Denise discusses how the City’s new social procurement program is helping create pathways to prosperity.
In 2006, community leaders in Flemingdon Park asked me why the City couldn’t hire young people through its procurement process.
Community leaders knew that youth employment was key to neighbourhood development in Toronto. They knew that the City, together with United Way was committed to taking action on neighbourhood improvement with the recent launch of the first Strong Neighbourhoods Strategy. And they saw City construction projects—part of the City’s annual budget of $1.8 billion for goods and services—as a perfect opportunity to train and hire under-employed young people.
They believed the City could make it happen.
We did. It took us 10 years.
Procurement in a large institution like the City is often inflexible, governed by policies, laws, and decades-long industry practices that create seemingly insurmountable barriers to targeted spending.
But we also knew, as the community knew, that social procurement could be a game-changer.
Social procurement has the power to create pathways to prosperity. Research indicates that Aboriginal and minority-owned businesses create jobs in their communities. The social enterprise business model is all about creating social and economic benefits for marginalized groups. So if even 5% of our annual procurement were leveraged to create economic opportunities for those in poverty, that could be a $75 million investment towards inclusive economic development.
Hawthorne Food & Drink, a social enterprise supported by the Toronto Enterprise Fund—a partnership between United Way and all three levels of government—employs individuals facing barriers including poverty and homelessness.
So we continued to push.
Working closely with partners, we began pilot initiatives to train and hire youth in a Weston-Mount Dennis youth space renovation in 2008, thanks to United Way funding. The City also worked with Toronto Community Housing and the Daniels Corporation to embed workforce development into the supply chain of the Regent Park Revitalization. And given my division’s focus on social development, we made sure to set an example, procuring from social enterprises whenever possible. A big win came in 2013 when City Council adopted a Framework for Social Procurement to move us from one-off successes to institutional practice.
Researching other jurisdictions, piloting approaches in City contracts, and building partnerships allowed us to have the evidence, the workable model, and a solid policy for Council to consider.
United Way–supported social enterprises like Interpreter Services Toronto, which trains and employs newcomer and refugee women—are now in a better position to compete for, and benefit from, City contracts as diverse suppliers through the Toronto Social Procurement Program.
Three years and nine pilot projects later, on May 3, 2016, Toronto City Council unanimously adopted the Toronto Social Procurement Program. The program drives inclusive economic growth in Toronto by encouraging buyers and vendors to do business with certified diverse suppliers, including those owned by people from equity-seeking communities and social enterprises in all City procurement. A particular focus will be on contracts below $50,000 for which smaller businesses like social enterprises are better able to compete.
This 10-year journey has been long, and isn’t over yet. We’re taking steps to build a broader social procurement ecosystem. We want to create a climate that allows businesses owned by equity-seeking communities—women, racialized and Aboriginal peoples and newcomers—and social enterprises to compete for City contracts on their own or as part of a partnership. With the support of the Atkinson Foundation and with the participation of the United Way, we are also leading the AnchorTO Network to spread social procurement practices across all of Toronto’s public sector institutions.
So the next time community leaders ask us to create economic opportunities for their residents, we know we have built the foundation to now answer ‘yes.’
Our guest blogger this week is Michelynn Laflèche, United Way Toronto & York Region’s Director of Research, Public Policy and Evaluation. Prior to joining United Way, she worked as a consultant withCivic Action and was Chief Executive of theRunnymede Trust, a leading social policy and research charity in the UK.
Michelynn Laflèche Director, Research, Public Policy and Evaluation United Way Toronto & York Region
Job precarity is having a negative impact on the wellbeing of our residents—it’s something we’ve been talking about in our research for some time now.
York Region—a place many consider affluent—is not immune to the problems facing Toronto’s downtown.
Our data tells us that people’s anxiety about work is interfering with their personal and family lives. More than half of the people surveyed earning low or middle incomes are experiencing this type of anxiety. The uncertainty of not knowing if and when you’ll work can be socially isolating.
Not having access to childcare is another huge challenge for York Region residents—63.6% say it interferes with their work-life. How do you schedule your child’s daycare if your work schedule changes weekly or daily?
These challenges are real and significant, but they don’t paint the entire picture. We also learned that in some instances, York Region residents actually fare better. Based on the sample size, we can’t draw definitive conclusions, but can make some interesting comparisons. We found that York Region residents who are precariously employed earn 10% higher individual incomes and 7% have higher household income.
All of this data is another important step in guiding and informing our work. It underscores the need to address the growing issues that surround precarious employment and our commitment to do more.
And we are prepared to do more around this work with the help of our partners across all sectors. We’re committed to building a dynamic labour market, ensuring jobs are a pathway to employment and enhancing social supports for a new and improved labour market.
Our guest blogger this week is Pedro Barata, Vice President of Communications & Public Affairs atUnited Way Toronto & York Region. He has experience working within, and across community-based organizations, strategic philanthropy, and various levels of government.
These community benefits mean that we have the opportunity to strengthen communities every time we build infrastructure. It’s historic legislation, and United Way has helped bring this exciting idea to fruition, working alongside a growing movement that includes labour, community groups, agencies, local and provincial government, Metrolinx, foundations and local residents. In particular, we have dedicated ourselves to working with all our partners to create a multi-sector partnership that can more effectively connect residents from priority neighbourhoods with the career opportunities that will emerge from arising new rapid transit expansion.
Sometimes it can be difficult to see the real impact that legislation makes on people’s everyday lives. But for residents in Toronto’s priority neighbourhoods, the possibilities of the new legislation are already within sight.
Take the Eglinton Crosstown line, which is being built near five of Toronto’s priority neighbourhoods. Thanks to a new Community Benefits Framework that involves Metrolinx, the provincial government and the community through the Toronto Community Benefits Network, the five-year, 19-kilometre-line will give local residents access to career opportunities. It is one example of how the new Bill 6 legislation can come into action. Recruitment, skills building, training programs and wraparound supports are now being brought together to give new skills to prospective workers and have people ready to help deliver this project on time, on budget and safely.
Community benefits are inspiring change. Bill 6 legislation enshrines community benefits as a smart, sustainable and transformative solution to build our region’s future. What’s new about this bill is that it actually names specific groups that are often left out of opportunities like this—at-risk youth, low-income communities, Aboriginal populations and people with disabilities.
United Way research shows a growing divide in access to opportunities for residents. At the same time, availability of skilled labour has been a constant concern amidst the region’s construction boom. Bill 6 signals a new era of collaboration, bringing the goals of government, labour, not-for-profits and business, closer together.
Our guest blogger this week is Mark Cullen, Canada’s best known gardener. Mark connects with more than 2 million Canadians each week through his weekly gardening segment on CTV and his numerous books and online postings. He’s passionate about helping Canadians grow organic, healthy produce—and with his well-known sense of social responsibility—Mark actively participates in local, provincial and international developmental and educational programs.He is a volunteer spokesperson for SHARE Agricultural Foundation, Canada Blooms Flower and Garden Festival, and the Composting Council of Canada. He is also a long-time friend and supporter of United Way Toronto & York Region. This includes the Toronto Enterprise Fund (TEF), a partnership between United Way and all levels of government that funds social enterprises providing individuals facing barriers with training and work opportunities. The following article, which has been edited and condensed, originally appeared on April 18, 2015, in the Toronto Star.
As I strolled into the boardroom, a stranger to this place and its people, I had no idea that the person who sat across from me had been living with serious challenges for many years. Mental illness is like that.
Outwardly there are often no signs of the struggles in one’s past. The evidence of a history of disabilities lies buried. The symptoms are often clear enough: homelessness, joblessness, and, sometimes an inability to get up in the morning or to face another human being that day.
All I knew for sure was that I had been asked to join a meeting of professional gardeners. These people tend plants for a living and, at some point in their past, most of them were seen as unemployable but now work in a business that was born in the world of social enterprise.
I know something about running a business, as I have been doing it for a few decades. But ‘social enterprise’? That was a new one to me.
By definition, a company that employs marginalized people and is supported by a not-for-profit funding partner like United Way is called a social enterprise. United Way’s TEF annual report explains, “TEF funds enterprises that connect people facing employment barriers with job training and work opportunities. Since its inception in 2000 TEF has funded 45 social enterprises, which have collectively employed and/or trained over 2,500 people. Currently we provide operating grants to a portfolio of 15 enterprises and seed funding to two.”
It was the good people at United Way Toronto & York Region who first introduced me to the idea a couple of years ago. As I learned more about the concept, I offered the benefit of my business experience to them and they asked me to meet ad-hoc with Parkdale Green Thumb Enterprises (PGTE), a landscape maintenance company in the west end of the city.
Maggie Griffin has been responsible for running PGTE for over 11 years. While she manages a business and deals with the usual challenges of dealing with suppliers, customer relations, and government interventions, her life is complicated by the fact that she employs people considered unemployable by many. Imagine hiring a staff that consists of people who are at risk of homelessness, have struggled with living in poverty, addiction issues and/or mental illness. Strike that suggestion, it is impossible for most of us to imagine it.
First, social enterprise just makes sense. As Maggie says, “What people really want is a home, a job, and a friend.” Working in an environment that respects your human-hood can give you dignity that is hard to find in the hard scrabble, competitive world of “business as usual.”
Secondly, PGTE engages people in paid positions where they can experience the miracle of the healing power of plants while on payroll. As one employee who did not want to be identified said, “The social aspect of Parkdale Green Thumb gave me the courage to apply for the job. Starting back to work was the single greatest leap forward toward living a full life again. I was exercising, socializing and feeling productive. With each day I gained more confidence. This has led to other employment, new friends, and a plan for the future.”
Today PGTE specialises in the installation and maintenance of plantings in business improvement areas around the west-centre core of the city. They do not own a truck or cars for transportation so employees travel by TTC. Last year they spent just over $6,000 on fares to get their people around to various jobs. Knowing how much it costs to run a car for a year, this sounds like a good investment to me.
Should you be sitting on a street car someday when a couple of people wander on with hedge shears and a watering can in hand, you just might be witness to the Green Thumb work in progress.
Uncertain future employment prospects can increase anxiety at home. Lack of benefits can make even small unexpected medical costs a crisis. Unpredictable work schedules can make finding suitable childcare very difficult. The short-term nature of the employment relationship can limit a worker’s access to the training needed to get ahead. Together, the added challenges associated with insecure employment represent The Precarity Penalty.
In short, precarious employment not only creates significant stress on individuals and families today, it also creates conditions that can trap those who are in precarious employment from opportunities to get ahead.
Given that insecure employment is the fastest growing form of employment, we should all be concerned about what this means for our families, our children and our communities.
A new body of research (see references below), much of it focused on the troubles in the U.S. economy, suggests that public policy has fallen short, and at times exacerbated the challenges facing precarious workers. These policies have exposed workers to more economic uncertainty, reduced supports that help build healthy families and made it more difficult than in the past for workers to negotiate improved working conditions. There is evidence that Canada’s own public policy environment has not fared much better in terms of protecting vulnerable workers.
What policy has enabled, policy can change. It is not inevitable that a growing number of Canadian workers find themselves in relationships that make it difficult to get ahead. The mechanisms we use to regulate labour markets, including how contracts are negotiated, how we set and enforce employment standards, how we support workers between jobs, how quality training is provided, and how workers can finance unexpected health costs and old age were all formed when permanent full-time employment was the norm.
We need to revisit these mechanisms in light of the spread of less secure employment and ensure that our public policies match the realities facing Canadians today.
Other countries have accepted this challenge. Canada can do the same.
United Way Toronto, in partnership with McMaster University, was instrumental in bringing about changes to Ontario’s Employment Standards Act, which included a call to government to introduce protections around lost wages for precariously employed individuals.
This new legislation is an important step forward in building a labour market that works.
Read more about precarious employment and its effects here:
This joint report between United Way and McMaster University examines our region’s rapidly-changing labour market
While the city’s muted job creation tends to grab most of the headlines, there’s an equally concerning labour trend afoot. In the last 20 years, we’ve seen a 50% rise in precarious, or unstable employment, according to research conducted by United Way Toronto and McMaster University.
In fact, more than 40% of people in the Hamilton-GTA region experience some degree of precarity, or insecurity, in their work, which has serious economic and social consequences for Toronto.
As this recent Globe and Mail article points out, “the shift to a just-in-time labour market creates a host of difficulties for long-term planning, eligibility for jobless benefits, and often results in a diminished ability to save.” Erratic hours “also create challenges in pursing an education, arranging childcare and qualifying for a mortgage.”
United Way’s Michelynn Laflèche recently appeared on TVO’s The Agenda to discuss precarious employment.
“Individuals in precarious work face many challenges,” says Michelynn Laflèche, United Way’s Director of Research, Public Policy and Evaluation, who recently appeared as a guest speaker on TVO’s The Agenda to discuss this new work reality. “They earn 46 per cent less than those who are securely-employed. They delay having families, are often unable to pay for their children’s extracurricular activities and experience higher levels of anxiety and stress. Precarity impacts the health of individuals and families and the way in which people can contribute to their communities.”
The findings of this report also helped spark a much larger conversation about how to build a better labour market that works for everyone. “I think we have to make employers in the government, private and charitable sectors understand what the risks are to families, communities and to businesses,” says Laflèche. “We need to build a case that helps employers think about how to operational their business in a way that treats people with dignity and respect and provides the kind of support people need to live a decent life.”
Guest blogger Andrew Holeton has worked in the social enterprise sector for 15 years, holding operational, policy and advocacy roles. Since 2010 he has been with the Learning Enrichment Foundation, leading various development projects, including a maintenance contract for Toronto’s Bixi Bicycle system.
My CCEDNet colleague Brendan Reimer recently said, “Every time we spend a dollar, we shape the world we live in.” Since discovering social enterprise 15 years ago, I’ve grown to admire an environment that recognizes people’s abilities, accommodates for challenges and gets folks to work. Right now in the social enterprise world, there is an unmistakable sense that we are on the cusp of something big. And there is a growing agreement amongst people that social and environmental sustainability are no longer just nice to have extras; they are goals that we absolutely and fundamentally must achieve.
Progress elsewhere is heartening. In the UK, social enterprises contributed £18 billion to the GDP in 2013. And the Social Value Act is now into its second year of encouraging public sector procurement officers to achieve social impact in purchasing. The UK has managed to make these significant investments in social enterprise at the same time as they have exacted major social service cuts. Faced with the same restraints, Canada has introduced similar cuts, yet spread them out over 20 years, without investing in a sustainable alternative. Sadly our regulations for government procurement don’t recognize social value. Major legislative change and political are needed to achieve this.
The non-profit I work for, the Learning Enrichment Foundation, is committed to implementing a social procurement policy. Though we do purchase from social enterprises, it’s not nearly as much as we could. We’ve come to the realization that we need to be more deliberate and to track how well we do. As we develop our policy, we’re grateful to benefit from the experience of others and to share our learning with non-profit colleagues.
In some ways, the private sector is well ahead of us. American federal government purchasing has required supply chain diversity for some time, even funding third parties to complete a certification process. Canadian companies doing business in the US are no strangers to this, and similar certification is now being introduced in Canada. In the next 6 to 18 months, we’ll also likely see US and Canadian certification for social enterprises which will be based on who the business employs or impacts. Diversity procurement officers in private sector companies are already on board, and it may well open up a whole new range of market opportunities for both existing and new social enterprises.
The best news is that consumer support of social enterprise and business with a social impact is clearly on the rise. The number of social businesses, products and services available is also increasing. If we really want this to work, we need government on board, and smart long-term investment to create an ecosystem that grows both supply and demand. It’s a far cry from what it could be. For now, we need to continue to support social enterprises whenever possible and advocate for others to do the same. But make no mistake—we’re actively embracing the idea that a successful economy is one that is inclusive and sustainable.
United Way Toronto is committed to helping people reach their full potential so that they can move from a life of poverty to one full of possibility. Through the Toronto Enterprise Fund, an innovative partnership with all three levels of government, United Way Toronto supports sustainable social enterprises that connect people facing barriers to employment with job training and work opportunities. Learn more about the Toronto Enterprise Fund.
There’s been a lot of talk in the past couple of weeks about what last month’s disappointing employment numbers—the Canadian economy lost 45,900 jobs in December, 39,000 of them in Ontario—means for our country, and especially for Toronto, which was particularly hard hit.
With an unemployment rate that jumped to 10.1 percent, Toronto now has higher unemployment than any major Canadian city except St. Catharines—and higher than any province except P.E.I. and Newfoundland. (The Toronto metropolitan area sits lower, at 7.7 percent—below the national average, but higher than most other urban areas.)
From all the news, views and data released in the past few weeks, two big points from the data jumped out at us:
It’s even harder for youth and newcomers In December, the youth unemployment rate in the Toronto metropolitan area was 15.4 percent, nearly the highest in Canada.
For newcomers, the numbers are worse. The December unemployment rate for newcomers who have been in Canada for five years or less was 15.2 percent—again, nearly the highest of any city in the country.
Despite rising unemployment, Toronto’s job creation is still outpacing the national average
Ten months ago, United Way shone a spotlight on the troubling reality of precarious employment. We knew that the labour market had changed dramatically in just a few short decades. Our report revealed that close to 40 percent of residents working in the Toronto and Hamilton area work in jobs without benefits or long-term stability.
We had to act. So we invited our partners and Torontonians to join us in a growing conversation about the issue, and identify ways we can work together to tackle it.
Today we’re pleased to see that the Government of Ontario has responded to our call for action. They’ve tabled legislation offering increased protection for precarious workers, meaning that important Employment Standards concerns will be addressed, making a vital difference for a growing number of workers and their families.
Alongside these important legislative changes, Minister of Labour Yasir Naqvi announced last week that the province will fulfill its 2008 Poverty Reduction Strategy commitment to invest $10 million of new funding into employment-standards enforcement.
This all comes as welcome news for individuals, families and our community. We encourage each and every one of you to continue to work with us in pushing for more progress in the area of employment security.
Last week, Matthew Mendelsohn, director of The Mowat Centre, spoke for an audience of United Way donors and partners about the fast-growing problem of precarious employment.
“Precarious” probably isn’t a word you want to associate with your paycheque. But 40% of workers in the GTA and Hamilton are working in jobs that exhibit some degree of precariousness: stringing together short-term contracts, working several part-time jobs instead of a full-time position, or working freelance, among other non-traditional work arrangements. (Traditional employment being full-time, on-going, and usually with benefits.) Some are more vulnerable than others, of course—many freelancers and consultants choose that flexibility. But employment precarity has increased nearly 50% in the past 20 years, and while it’s most prevalent among low-income earners, it’s fast becoming a middle-class issue as well.
As Mendelsohn describes the issue, it’s all about risk: Who bears it, and who takes responsibility for it.
Traditionally, the burden of risk—of an employee falling sick, having an accident, getting laid off—was borne by the employee, the employer and the government. But with the rise of precarious employment and the erosion in the “social contract” between employers and employees, that burden is shifting, in a big way, to individuals. What does all this mean? Essentially, people facing uncertainty are likelier to postpone fundamental life decisions: starting a family, buying a home, etc. More troubling, says Mendelsohn, rates of intergenerational mobility—the assumption that young people will be at least as well off as their parents—has been eroding, throwing into doubt the “Canadian promise” that has been so attractive to newcomers.
Of course, some people prefer non-standard working arrangements—they appreciate the added flexibility in a dynamic economy. The challenge is to implement public policy to make non-traditional working arrangements, well, work better. This means investing in social infrastructure – housing, transit, childcare, recreation, early childhood education—to ensure the burden of risk is once again more evenly shared between government, employers and individuals. Below, Mendelsohn addresses just a few of the realistic public policy responses to the rise of precarious work.