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.