TORONTO—An entire generation of Ontarians has come of age in a province battered by mounting inequality, eroding social programs and a “ballooning” part-time workforce, a new Ontario Common Front report, says.
Contrasting Canada’s largest province with the rest of the country, the report outlines the “sea change” transforming Ontario’s labour force as well as what it calls the worst cuts to social programs in the country. Commissioned by Ontario
Common Front, an Ontario Federation of Labour-spearheaded coalition that consists of more than 90 labour and community groups across the province, the report paints a bleak picture of the province’s past several decades.
“A quarter-million jobs have completely vanished from Ontario and fully half of all Ontarians have seen little or no improvement in their incomes [in the past 30 years], while the top 10 percent are making off like bandits,” Ontario Federation of Labour president, Sid Ryan, said.
Since 1997, the share of Ontario’s work force earning minimum wage has increased more than five-fold, the report notes. Today 1.7 million people in Ontario—about a third of the province’s workers—earn within $4 of minimum wage.
“For racialized workers, immigrants, women and youth, that proportion is much higher,” the report’s author, Natalie Mehra, notes.
Full-time work has also come under fire across Ontario. The province’s residents now face a tougher time finding a full-time position than their counterparts across Canada. To cope with the tough labour market, workers are taking part-time positions. Involuntary part-time work in Ontario has increased from five per cent below the rest of the country in 2000, to 8 per cent above the national average in 2012.
“Ontario is dead last in funding for social programs and, by nearly every measure, it is trailing every other province in income equality and poverty reduction,” Mehra said. “While it is hard to start a family anywhere in Canada, young families in Ontario are struggling with the largest student debt loads, the most expensive child care, the worst access to affordable housing and highest costs for health care – all at a time when good jobs are being replaced with precarious, part-time and temporary employment at unprecedented.”
Manufacturing has been particularly hard-hit. The report found Ontario lost 317,900 manufacturing jobs from 2000-2014. Meanwhile, the province still needs to add 270,000 new jobs in order to return to the employment rate of 63.7 per
cent seen in September 2008 before the recession.
The report also highlights significant income disparity and differing prospects for the province’s poorest and richest residents.
“Between 1976 and 1990 there was, on average an 11 times difference between the lowest 20 per cent and the highest 20 per cent of income earning families. From 1991 to 2011, the average difference between the lowest-earning families and the highest had almost doubled to 19 times,” the report says.
The most startling cases occur in Toronto, where the richest one per cent in Toronto earn in three years what 90 per cent of the city’s tax filers will earn in an entire lifetime.
Among other notable challenges, the report pointed to the fact university tuition fees in Ontario have outpaced inflation by 601 per cent over the past 20 years and are by far the highest in the country, even while per student funding for higher education ranks dead last nationally.
Despite the worrying figures, Ontario Common Front did credit premier Kathleen Wynne “for taking initial steps to break with the austerity agenda laid out by her predecessor.” It pointed to reductions in child poverty and the push to expand the public pension plan as examples of change.
“If there is good news to be extracted from this report, it is that every other province in Canada has charted a better course than Ontario. This serves as proof that every government is capable of making different choices,” Mehra said.