This is the 18th Toronto’s Vital Signs Report. Our most in depth and broadly cited report tracks 10 quality of life issue areas and amplifies the voices of sector leaders. Their insights and hopes for a better future informed our data analysis and the opportunities and obstacles to getting better.

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Trends in toronto

The cross-cutting trends that have emerged or been amplified through the pandemic.

Affordability

The pandemic has pushed inequality to an all-time high. Canadians’ net worth has grown by $1.8 trillion - the highest increase ever. But about 95% of growth has gone to homeowners, while many younger and racialized residents struggle with the rising cost of living.1

Infographic with data points about affordability in Toronto, from the Toronto’s Vital Signs 2021 Report.

Sources

  1. Statistics Canada. Table 36-10-0580-01 National Balance Sheet Accounts.
  2. Toronto Foundation and The Environics Institute for Survey Research, Toronto Social Capital Study 2018.
  3. MLSE Home Price Index.
  4. “Rental Market Report Data Tables | CMHC,” accessed May 26, 2020.
  5. Abby Neufeld, “‘Like a Rat Cage’: Toronto’s Homeless Describe Packed Shelters, Surge in Violence and Death | CTV News,” CTV News, June 15, 2021.
  6. “City of Toronto Highlights Key Accomplishments over the Last Year in the Ongoing Fight against COVID-19,” March 10, 2021. 
  7. Data was accessed through the City of Toronto’s Progress Portal and supplemented with additional conversations with staff from Daily Bread Food Bank.
  8. Peter Ochs and Talia Bronstein, “Who’s Hungry Report” (Toronto, 2020).
  9. The Abilities Centre provided data from its COVID-19 Disability Survey for respondents in Toronto.
  10. Ochs and Bronstein, “Who’s Hungry Report.”
  11. City of Toronto, “Toronto’s First Resilience Strategy” (Toronto , 2019).

Digital Divide

Technology brings the promise of access to opportunities and services. But the accelerated shift online has exposed an immense digital divide. Without equal access to the internet, technology and inclusive design, the online world is perpetuating obstacles for those who were already being marginalized by systemic barriers.

Infographic with data points about the digital divide in Toronto, from the Toronto’s Vital Signs 2021 Report.

Sources

  1. Data provided by the Environics Institute, the Future Skills Centre, and the Diversity Institute at Ryerson University from their November/December 2020 collection.
  2. Brookfield Institute.
  3. The Abilities Centre provided data from its COVID-19 Disability Survey for respondents in Toronto.
  4. Rates of depression in 15 largest Census Divisions Mental Health Research Canada (MHRC). 
  5. ""
  6. “Student Winter 2021 Check-in Survey Ward Report (Based on Home School)” (Toronto,
    January 2021).
  7. Data from the November/December 2020 Survey of Employment and Skills, by the Environics Institute for Survey Research, the Diversity Institute, and the Future Skills Centre.

Work

At the heart of Toronto's worsening inequality crisis are underemployment, and low-paying and precarious jobs that were hardest hit during COIVD. These trends can have lasting impacts on livelihoods. And while there's been a new appreciation for improving working conditions, rights and accommodations that have long been overlooked, change will only be realized with sustained advocacy.

Infographic with data points about work and employment in Toronto, from the Toronto’s Vital Signs 2021 Report.

Sources

  1. Statistics Canada. Table 14-10-0380-01 Labour force characteristics, three-month moving average,
    seasonally adjusted.
  2. Labour Force Survey Public Use Microdata File.
  3. Data provided by the Environics Institute for the Greater Toronto Area for November and December 2020 from the 2020 Survey on Employment and Skills
  4. Toronto's Vital Signs 2021, pg. 50.
  5. “2020: The Year One in Four Arts Worker Lost Their Job - CAPACOA,” Canadian Association
    for the Performing Arts, January 15, 2021.
  6. Labour Force Survey via Toronto Economic Bulletin.
  7. “Labour Force Survey — Supplemental Tables, Monthly | Community Data Program,” June 18, 2021.
  8. Toronto's Vital Signs 2021, pg. 45.
  9. Toronto Foundation partnered with Green Shield Canada to research access to dental care in the city and its impact on overall wellbeing.

Wellbeing

Toronto is not well. Experts are warning of the long-term implications of the pandemic on our mental and physical wellbeing, and the far-reaching impacts into other aspects of our lives. Some will need more time than others to get better, and thus the momentum of recovery depends on ensuring adequate supports and services are available. 

Infographic with data points about the wellbeing of Toronto residents, from the Toronto’s Vital Signs 2021 Report.

Sources

  1. Mental Health Research Canada (MHRC).
  2. ""
  3. “Toronto Overdose Information System | Tableau Public.”
  4. Jacques Marcoux and Katie Nicholson, “Deadly Force | CBC News,” CBC News, accessed July 25, 2021.
  5. Hate Crime Unit Intelligence Services, “Toronto Police Service 2020 Annual Hate Crime Statistical Report Intelligence Services, Hate Crime Unit” (Toronto, 2020).
  6. “Anti-Asian Discrimination: Younger Canadians Most Likely to Be Hardest Hit by Experiences with Racism, Hate - Angus Reid Institute,” June 8, 2021.
  7. Data provided by the Assaulted Women’s Helpline.
  8. Beverly Romeo-Beehler, “Opening Doors to Stable Housing: An Effective Waiting List and Reduced Vacancy Rates Will Help More People Access Housing” (Toronto, ON, 2019).
  9. Toronto Social Capital Survey and data provided by the Environics Institute as part of its Survey on Employment and Skills, conducted by the Environics Institute for Survey Research in partnership with the Future Skills Centre and the Diversity Institute.
  10. The Abilities Centre provided data from its COVID-19 Disability Survey for respondents in Toronto.

Community Supports

Community organizations are the unsung essential heroes of the pandemic. With a growing number of people who feel they have no one to rely on in times of need, nonprofits and grassroots groups have been a lifeline. But the pressure is taking a toll and will likely outlast the pandemic, which could impact the recovery of the tens of thousands of residents who rely on them.

Infographic with data points about the community supports in Toronto, from the Toronto’s Vital Signs 2021 Report.

Sources

  1. The 2021 Toronto Nonprofit Survey, conducted by Toronto Foundation.
  2. ""
  3. ""
  4. 2020 Ontario Nonprofit Network survey.
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To contain the virus spread, Toronto has had more severe and prolonged lockdowns than nearly any major city in the world. The social and economic fallout of this has been more severe than in most Canadian cities. Particularly pronounced has been the role that social distancing has played in declining mental health, food insecurity, and the overall wellbeing of people with disabilities.

While we struggled with the public health crisis, numerous pre-existing health inequities were brought to the fore. The parts of the city with the highest poverty and the highest percentage of racialized people have long experienced much lower rates of life expectancy and higher rates of numerous diseases. In the pandemic, they were hit again, bearing the brunt of infections and deaths. Even as the city began to recover from the pandemic, the slow rollout of vaccines in the places that were most affected highlighted long-time systemic barriers, including an uneven distribution of the health infrastructure.

Covered in this chapter:

  • Mental health is at crisis levels
  • Suicial ideation is up significantly, particularly among young people
  • Food bank usage at record highs
  • Community organizations play a key role
  • Increased income support needed to reduce long-term food insecurity
  • Disability a major factor in the pandemic fallout
  • *Special feature: 5 key findings linking dental services to quality of life. Read more in the soon-to-be released oral health report published by Green Shield Canada and Toronto Foundation.

The unequal impacts of the pandemic underlined the racialization of poverty in Toronto. Low income workers who are more often racialized have not yet recovered their pre-pandemic working hours, and the situation is worse in Toronto than the rest of the country. And for those on social assistance and unable to work, there was no relief. On the other hand, the pandemic was only a blip on the income levels of wealthy and mostly white Canadians, who quickly recovered any lost hours and have seen the value of their stock portfolios and houses soar.

Covered in this chapter:

  • Low-income workers hardest hit
  • Growing difficulty making ends meet during the pandemic
  • Unprecedented wealth creation for some Canadians
  • Increased demand exceeds capacity for social service nonprofits
  • Deficiencies in pre-existing income supports highlighted by CERB
  • High time for tax policy reform

High-income workers were easily able to transition to work at home and continued to receive their full salaries, many low-income workers either lost their jobs or had their hours reduced, and in many cases had to continue working in unsafe environments.

Women have disproportionately suffered job losses (especially racialized women), often working in service sectors that have been subject to significant reductions during the pandemic and they have also assumed the majority of childcare responsibilities that have resulted from school closures due to uneven caregiving.

There has been some societal appreciation for “essential workers,” the usually low-paid workers who have kept the city running throughout the pandemic. However, despite calls for change, there has been little in the way of concrete policy changes or wage increases to fundamentally improve the lives of these workers.

Covered in this chapter:

  • Toronto facing highest labour underutilization rate in Canada
  • “Privileged” workers have been mostly unaffected by the pandemic
  • Service sector and smaller employers hardest hit of all
  • The “she-session” underlines need for national childcare
  • Long-term unemployment poses permanent risks 
  • Heightened respect for essential workers opens doors to policy improvements

Community-based organizations, both formal and informal, play a fundamental role in connecting us, and the strain on them has been severe and will likely outlast the pandemic. For most nonprofits and charities, donations and volunteering tanked and then rebounded to some extent, at least on the short-term revenue side, and staff burnout is high. But, the emergence of grassroots groups as essential components of the pandemic response is a positive turn of events. Communities came together in mutual support to ride out the pandemic and mitigate the damage.

Hope for a better future may be the most promising outcome of all. In the face of the unequal effects of the pandemic, the broad embrace of racial justice and the importance of Reconciliation have emerged as central issues that can guide us forward.

Covered in this chapter:

  • Formal volunteering has cratered
  • A collective awakening on inequality
  • More people feel like they have no one to rely on
  • Unprecedented revenue declines for nonprofits, but experience varies by subsector
  • Overall financial health of nonprofits improved, but still challenged
  • Nonprofits report record declines in donations
  • Demand for services growing faster than capacity to meet it
  • New skills and capabilities added despite obstacles
  • Almost half of nonprofit sector workers burned out

The pandemic experience in our city had an unequivocal impact on the environment, for good and for bad. As residents stayed home, air quality improved, and vehicle emissions decreased, but the volume of residential waste went up. As the weather got warmer, people emerged from lockdown and flocked outdoors, and many reported an increased appreciation of nature. But as past research has shown, the burden of many environmental risks often falls to those already vulnerable. Older, low-income, predominantly racialized residents experience higher deaths from heat waves, have lower access to green space and are also more prone to negative health outcomes arising from poor air quality. The past 18 months, which have so clearly laid bare the inequities upon which our city is built, need to be a wake-up call for how we talk about and urgently address the climate crisis.

Covered in this chapter:

  • Heightened appreciation for the great outdoors — but gaps in access persist
  • Natural infrastructure presents an equitable solution
  • Decreasing greenhouse gas emissions key for Toronto
  • Waste diversion rates constant, though garbage increased
  • Opportunities for the environmental sector

The physical closure of schools and cancellation of before- and after-school programs together led to sharp increases in hunger for many students who had previously relied on nutritional supports. Parts of the city that are home to more low-income and racialized residents bore the brunt of learning disruptions. Students in those areas were more likely to quickly switch to virtual schooling, as these neighbourhoods had the most severe COVID-19 outbreaks, but students in these neighbourhoods were most likely to struggle with access to high-speed internet, high-quality devices and adequate space to focus on schoolwork.

Covered in this chapter:

  • Online schooling falls short of in-person learning
  • Students struggling with pace and lack of supports
  • Virtual learning more prevalent in lower-income and racialized parts of the city
  • Mental health of students a serious concern
  • Gaps in access to extra-curricular programming intensified
  • Reconciliation fundamental to education reform 
  • Nonprofits step up to fill gaps with virtual programming
  • Hunger an exacerbated factor in learning
  • Long-term challenges emerging that need system-wide solutions

Where it was possible, the shift to online kept organizations afloat, the livelihoods of some workers intact and the hearts and minds of residents engaged throughout the dark days of the pandemic.

While the pace of recovery is uncertain, the move online offers some organizations the opportunity for audience expansion. The historic dependence on face-to-face interaction has been an obstacle for many whose location and/or financial limitations have precluded them from participating in the past. The forced shift to virtual programming without a doubt offers immediate-term potential for greater access, and this will help address well-documented gaps, particularly for low-income and populations that are otherwise being marginalized.

Covered in this chapter:

  • Arts, culture, recreation and sports organizations continue to struggle
  • Arts workers are suffering, and many may have left the sector permanently
  • Some arts organizations successfully went online during the pandemic
  • A long recovery expected
  • Equity and fees are major problems
  • Pandemic learnings hold hope for brighter future
  • Rethinking our cultural spaces and accessibility

While overall crime went down in 2021, some neighbourhoods experienced spikes in violent crime, and intimate partner violence reached alarming levels. The extreme hardships experienced by some are no doubt a factor here. There’s no starker example of this than in the record 529 deaths from opioid overdoses, an overlooked but contingent fact in the unfolding story of COVID-19.

History has shown that hate crimes often rear up when fear and mistrust dominate. The foundations of Toronto’s great diversity have certainly been rocked with hate-related complaints to police up 51% in 2020.

But it was the role of policing itself that took centre stage, and many believe this is a sign of necessary change to come.

Covered in this chapter:

  • Overall police-reported crime down
  • Violence increasing back to pre-pandemic norms
  • Domestic disturbances also on the rise 
  • Reported hate crimes against Asian, Black and Jewish people increasing
  • Opioid crisis further heightened
  • Role of police in crisis response comes to a head

Despite recent big announcements of major capital investments in transit, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) continues to be one of the transit systems with the lowest public funding in North America. Without additional subsidies, declines in ridership will likely necessitate fare hikes in order to offset losses. And this will mean the burden will fall to those least able to afford them, disproportionately, women, essential workers, racialized residents and low-income residents.

As transit has been hard hit, the rise in active transportation offers a ray of hope. People have taken up walking and cycling in droves. Yet, access to infrastructure has been unequal. At the same time, social distancing measures dramatically reduced mobility around the city, driving social connectivity online. Those with weak or no access to the internet suffered the consequences.

Covered in this chapter:

  • Risk of transit “death spiral” real
  • Understanding ridership key to future TTC financial model
  • Investments in transit infrastructure continue
  • Active transportation on the rise
  • Access to internet and technology

Amid the economic disruption of the pandemic, 11% of rental units were in arrears as of October 2020, and as eviction bans were lifted in June 2021, the threat of increased homelessness looms.

Adequate housing is a fundamental human right, and successful models of nonprofit and community housing exist, but they require significant scaling up. Housing is the single largest expense for most Canadians. The explosion of housing prices combined with stagnant incomes and low availability of affordable units point to serious concerns for rising housing precarity.

Covered in this chapter:

  • Impact of evictions moratorium ending poses serious risk
  • Surge in homelessness in months after repeal of the eviction ban
  • Toronto one of the most expensive housing markets in the world
  • Limited to no rental availability for bottom 40% of income earners
  • Lack of affordable housing supply a problem years in the making
  • Solutions available when we consider housing a human right
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