Less than half of Toron­to­ni­ans have per­ma­nent, full-time po­si­tions,


Death and taxes are no longer life’s only cer­tain­ties. For many Toron­to­ni­ans, job in­se­cu­rity can be added to that list.

Slightly less than half of the Greater Toronto Hamil­ton Area’s work­ers en­joy a “stan­dard em­ploy­ment re­la­tion­ship” — per­ma­nent, full-time em­ploy­ment with ben­e­fits — ac­cord­ing to the Toronto Foun­da­tion’s Vi­tal Signs Re­port. And that sprawl­ing job in­se­cu­rity is tak­ing a ma­jor per­sonal and pro­fes­sional toll.

“You’re ba­si­cally on your own en­tirely in life,” says Mi­randa Gal­lagher*, a 35-year-old con­tract mar­ket­ing man­ager in the tech sec­tor. “When you do have that com­pany back­ing, it’s your in­sur­ance — your sup­port sys­tem in a way.”

Job in­se­cu­rity is the new norm and is in­creas­ingly also af­fect­ing the mid­dle class, the re­port re­veals. Many peo­ple can’t af­ford to look be­yond the next pay­cheque, month or cal­en­dar year due to a lack of se­cu­rity in in­come, hours or em­ploy­ment ten­ure. Pre­car­i­ous work can in­clude temp, con­tract and part-time jobs — and even full-time po­si­tions with ir­reg­u­lar hours or zero ben­e­fits.

Gal­lagher says her life is “on hold.” A renter in Bloor West, she had to work two straight years on con­tract to garner re­cent bank ap­proval for a mort­gage. But with only one year left in her em­ploy­ment term, she doesn’t feel she has the sta­bil­ity to buy. Lack­ing ben­e­fits, she regularly puts off den­tal and med­i­cal ap­point­ments — and she can’t even think about hav­ing kids with­out a ma­ter­nity leave. That would mean zero in­come.

In her sec­tor alone, Gal­lagher es­ti­mates over half of all po­si­tions are fixed or short-term con­tracts. That sta­tus even makes her a “sec­ond­class” citizen in her own of­fice. She doesn’t have gym priv­i­leges, or ac­cess to com­pany train­ing, and doesn’t qual­ify for overtime: “You’re con­stantly want­ing your con­tract to be re­newed, so you work your butt off.”

If the pri­vate sec­tor gets its wish, Gal­lagher’s ranks will only grow in the years ahead.

Vi­tal Signs cites a re­cent Deloitte poll of Cana­dian firms show­ing al­most half (47 per cent) plan to in­crease their use of “con­tin­gent, out­sourced, con­tract or part-time” work­ers in the next three to five years.

While that strat­egy pro­vides em­ploy­ers with flex­i­bil­ity in an un­cer­tain econ­omy, it leaves work­ers in limbo.

Michelle Gould* is another case in point. Af­ter com­plet­ing her bach­e­lor of ed­u­ca­tion, a lack of teach­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties found the 31-year-old wad­ing through temp agency work — in­clud­ing a stint as a Bay Street re­cep­tion­ist. Gould’s de­gree also caused em­ploy­ers to per­ceive her as a flight risk for any­thing but short terms. Over a year ago, she landed part-time em­ploy­ment at a pri­vate day­care, work­ing an av­er­age of 5.5 hours a day, while also tak­ing on a side job teach­ing a craft work­shop twice a week. Her hus­band, also a teacher, works an un­sta­ble con­tract that’s re­newed an­nu­ally.

“I couldn’t imag­ine hav­ing a child, it’s very hard to plan . . . and buy­ing a house? I have no idea how any­one does that,” she says. “I can’t even imag­ine pay­ing off my stu­dent debt right now.”

Vi­tal Signs an­nual re­port de­liv­ers a con­sol­i­dated di­ag­no­sis of the ma­jor trends and is­sues af­fect­ing qual­ity of life in Toronto — and it iden­ti­fies pre­car­i­ous em­ploy­ment as an epi­demic. The anal­y­sis cites “The Pre­car­ity Penalty,” a 2015 re­port pro­duced by McMaster Univer­sity and United Way Toronto. It found that the num­ber of Toronto work­ers with the most in­se­cure forms of pre­car­i­ous work (tem­po­rary or con­tract) stood at 22.7 per cent in 2014.

Rahul Bhard­waj, pres­i­dent and CEO of Toronto Foun­da­tion, calls that “poverty of op­por­tu­nity.”

The stan­dard jobs of the past were about “build­ing a busi­ness” or “sup­port­ing an or­ga­ni­za­tion” in re­turn for a mea­sure of sta­bil­ity, he ex­plains, not­ing that model cre­ated a sense of be­long­ing and trust in in­sti­tu­tions, com­mu­ni­ties and the over­all sys­tem. “Self-re­liance or self-em­ploy­ment shouldn’t be the new so­cial safety net.”

Cou­pled with es­ca­lat­ing hous­ing prices and rents, the rise in pre­car­i­ous work means many young peo­ple can’t af­ford to lay down roots or raise fam­i­lies in the city, he ex­plains, ask­ing, “What is a city with­out young fam­i­lies and young chil­dren to ground it all?”

Ac­cord­ing to Vi­tal Signs, new data from the Met­calf Foun­da­tion shows be­tween 2006 and 2012 work­ing poverty in­creased from 9.9 to10.7 per cent among the city’s work­ing-age pop­u­la­tion, and from 8.2 to 10.7 per cent across the Toronto re­gion — the high­est among Canada’s 10 largest cen­sus metropoli­tan ar­eas.

The cri­sis is also cre­at­ing a tal­ent and in­no­va­tion crunch. Af­ford­abil­ity and sta­ble job prospects are mag­nets that at­tract “the best and the bright­est,” Bhard­waj says.

Sim­ply put, pre­car­i­ous em­ploy­ment makes Toronto a less at­trac­tive place to call home.

Vi­tal Signs also turns to “The Pre­car­ity Penalty” to out­line the per­sonal and so­cial bur­dens cre­ated by in­se­cure work. Those in pre­car­i­ous jobs were twice as likely to re­port poor men­tal health. Other neg­a­tives in­cluded lower rates of civic and com­mu­nity en­gage­ment (in­clud­ing vot­ing and volunteering), lim­ited qual­ity time with fam­ily, and dif­fi­culty pay­ing for chil­dren’s school­ing needs — from trips to sup­plies.

Gov­ern­ment-de­signed sup­port sys­tems, from wel­fare and em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance to re­tire­ment se­cu­rity, were not de­signed for to­day’s pre­car­i­ous work­force. As such, peo­ple can find them­selves trapped in in­se­cure or low-in­come jobs.

“Get­ting ahead be­comes a very dif­fi­cult task for many peo­ple,” says Michelynn Laflèche, United Way Toronto’s di­rec­tor of re­search. “In­di­vid­u­als can’t pick up all the risk.”

Many fac­tors need to be ad­dressed, Laflèche ex­plains, from lack of train­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties and work­force de­vel­op­ment, to a dearth of af­ford­able child care. Un­cer­tain work sched­ules — par­tic­u­larly in the ser­vice sec­tor — make it even harder for some to find child care.

Bhard­waj says one po­ten­tial pol­icy lever is to bet­ter align the ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor and the labour mar­ket. He points to some Euro­pean mod­els that con­nect com­pa­nies — and job op­por­tu­ni­ties — with stu­dents at an early stage of their de­gree.

Still, as long as cur­rent trends hold, more fam­i­lies like the Goulds could find them­selves tread­ing wa­ter: “We’re fine . . . but it’s hard to look be­yond one year at a time.”

* Note: The name has been changed, but all other de­tails are fac­tual.

“I couldn’t imag­ine hav­ing a child, it’s very hard to plan . . . and buy­ing a house? I have no idea how any­one does that.” MICHELLE GOULD*


Pre­car­i­ous work can in­clude temp, con­tract and part-time jobs — even full-time po­si­tions with ir­reg­u­lar hours.

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