Toronto workers’ wages shrinking in contrast to other provinces, think tank says

Sara Mojtehedzadeh / The Toronto Star

Lynn Beamish knows the value of a steady income. As an advisor in the financial services sector, she sees many of the city’s workers struggling to make ends meet.

“Nowadays, unfortunately, people have to live on plastic, because there’s more month at the end of the money,” she says.

After fracturing her ankle in 2009, the 63-year-old Scarborough resident couldn’t return to her full-time job at a non-profit childcare facility. In her new line of work, she is paid on commission, making it difficult to plan.

“You can be up and down each month,” she told the Star. “We need more hours and more wages, because people are still living below the poverty line. And I’m one of them.”

New research backs Beamish up. An analysis of the latest available Statistics Canada figures on median employment income shows that workers across most of the province are becoming poorer, despite rising income levels across much of Canada.

The study by the Ottawa-based Broadbent Institute and provided to the Star found that Ontario’s median income decreased by 1.7 percent between 2006 and 2012. All other provinces and territories except British Columbia saw median income rise during the same period. In Toronto, the median income dropped by 2.8 percent, to $32,670.

“It does suggest that living standards in Ontario are stagnating,” said the Broadbent Institute’s senior policy advisor, Andrew Jackson.

Employment income, rather than money earned from investments, pensions or benefits, makes up the biggest chunk of overall household earnings. The research looked at median rather than average employment income levels, since averages tend to be skewed by large income increases for the very rich.

Growth in median employment income adjusted for inflation:

  Canada Toronto Windsor St. John's Saskatoon
2006 $30,587 $33,601 $32,819 $30,028 $31,480
2012 $31,660 $32,670 $28,350 $37,210 $37,070
Growth 3.5% -2.8% -13.6% 23.9% 17.8%
    In Toronto, falling income could be related to the rise in precarious work in the city. Toronto also has a relatively high number of immigrants, whose wages tend to be lower than other Canadians. Traditionally dependent on the automotive industry, Windsor was badly hit by the recession which dampened demand for cars south of the border. The discovery of oil offshore has been a major economic boon. But income growth may also be a partly fuelled by tax returns filled by Newfound-landers working in the oil sands in Alberta. Workers in Saskatoon are reaping the benefits of the province's large-scale potash development, as well as growth in the energy sector and agricultural exports.


Nationally, median incomes went up by 3.5 percent. Newfoundland and Labrador was the best-performing province, with income growth of almost 38 per cent over the six years studied. Resource-rich provinces such as Saskatchewan and Alberta also saw significant gains.

In Ontario, though, the picture was much bleaker. Of 14 regions surveyed, only three — Ottawa, Kingston, and Sudbury — saw incomes rise.

“In the recession of 2009, we saw very significant losses at better-paid-than-average manufacturing jobs, and a very limited recovery of those jobs since,” Jackson said. The sector’s slump could also have a spill-over effect on service sector jobs in Toronto.

Jackson also said the growth of precarious employment in the city may have dampened income growth. Research by McMaster University and United Way shows that about one in five working people in the GTA-Hamilton area are in precarious employment.

Deena Ladd, of the Worker’s Action Centre, a labour rights group, said the Ontario government could do more to boost worker’s wages by mandating equal pay for equal work. Employees who are sub-contracted or hired through temp agencies are often paid far less than those in permanent positions, even when doing the same job.

“They could be helping to promote full-time work, introducing polices that mean that workers should be able get hours they can live on,” said Ladd.

Federally, Jackson said the government’s focus on resource-based expansion may have fuelled skewed income growth across the country.

“I think their major focus has been very much on the development of the resource economy, and manufacturing has been something of an afterthought,” he said,

“You say ‘manufacturing’ and people tend to think of blue-collar jobs and smokestack industries,” he added. “But there are a lot of high-end jobs in manufacturing as well as the knowledge economy.”

Whatever the vehicle, Lynn Beamish hopes change comes soon.

“It is tough without getting that weekly or bi-weekly pay check coming in,” she says. “Most people are just living that way, paycheck to paycheck.”