Toronto is not well, according to the 18th biennial Toronto's Vital Signs Report released last week by Toronto Foundation and which examines 10 standing issues that measure the quality of life in Toronto and honing in on new precarity indicators.
"Toronto is not well and we all have a role to play to help us get better," says Sharon Avery, president and CEO, Toronto Foundation. "What we're seeing is that 650,000 Torontonians are struggling to make ends meet and are not positioned to recover without some help. After hearing from close to 300 nonprofit sector leaders and staff, we hope this report serves as a road map for a better, more inclusive and caring future pandemic response -- prioritizing the most vulnerable and embracing the wellbeing of all."
"At close to 200 pages and with more than 250 citations, the report is a massive collection of data and insights, the largest of its kind," says Avery. "Given the unprecedented times we find ourselves in we took on the task of adding a final layer of analysis to the numbers to make sense of it all. These precarity indicators are brand new and something we intend to track over time, so that we can see if we are getting better and how."
With a completely virtual launch, Toronto's Vital Signs Report tracks 10 elements of quality of life; analyses relevant intersections of affordability, wellbeing, work, the digital divide and community supports; and pulls out some key indicators, underscoring the declining health of the city, especially when compared to the rest of Canada.
Affordability: The gap between the rich and the poor has consistently been growing -- more so during COVID and it will continue that way – because of precarious work and long-term impacts of underemployment, stagnating growth for racialized groups more than others, while the wealthiest residents grew wealthier especially with property investments. There are 140,000 more adult Torontonians struggling to make ends meet because of insufficient income (1 in 5 adults in 2018 grew to 1 in 4 in 2020) for a total of 650,000. There are 138,600 more unemployed (August 2021 compared to February 2020).
Wellbeing: Mental health challenges have soared with experts warning of staggering long-term and widespread consequences as 410,000 more people struggle compared to 2018. Related, 250,000 more adults do not comfortably have someone to rely on when needed. Results from a new oral health report show that dental care has seen greater inflation than nearly any other category of good or service with the working poor boxed out of coverage. A total of 124,000 residents are relying on food banks (56,000 more people and the highest use ever recorded) and 262,000 more adults are struggling to maintain very good physical health (mid-2018 to late 2020).
Work: Racialized workers lost 20% of their hours. Arts and recreation workers across Canada already had high rates of poverty before the pandemic, but 1 in 4 lost their job in 2020. Women are slower to get back to work with their unemployment growing 16% compared to 3% for men (as of April 2021). While employment rates rebound across the country, they are slower in Toronto (unemployment rates in the Toronto CMA were still up 3.9% versus February 2020 and were only up 1.6% for the rest of the country).
Digital Divide: COVID exposed an immense digital divide that threatens people's abilities to learn, work and stay connected -- something Torontonians who are differently abled have been flagging for years. Access to reliable internet is unequal: 43% of racialized residents are worried about paying for access at home, along with 73% of Indigenous residents.
Community Supports: According to Toronto Foundation's 2nd Annual Toronto Nonprofit Survey, 40% of charities have had significant increases in demand for their services, yet almost half are reporting decreased revenues, and only 19% have seen a significant increase in capacity. Contributing to the strain is a 38% decline in volunteer hours for the average organization largely because of public health measures.
Key findings and solutions were uncovered across each of the 10 quality of life issue areas with input and analysis from community experts.
Says Avery, "In the past, we've refrained from making direct recommendations to policymakers and others, but we believe the unprecedented nature of this pandemic compels us to use our community insights to mobilize others into action."
Visit torontofoundation.ca/VitalSigns2021 for the report and follow @TorontoFdn and #VitalSignsTO