Toronto's Social Landscape

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Org: Social Planning Toronto
Date: 2009

Executive Summary

Toronto's Social Landscape is a new resource for organizations and community groups that use demographic and socio-economic data in their work ? to assist in program planning, needs assessments, funding submissions, advocacy initiatives, public policy development and research projects. This report draws on 10 years of Census data, and additional data sources, to paint a picture of Toronto's population and the major trends impacting its residents and institutions. Part 1 focuses on the data including 10-year trends and more detailed statistics from the most recent Census. Comparative data for the city of Toronto, Toronto Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) and Ontario are provided. Part 2 provides a discussion of some of the major trends in Toronto. In the appendix, readers are provided with additional income and poverty data, as well as, links to additional data sources for Toronto.

Making a Liveable City for all Residents

Toronto is a city of growing diversity, home to a broad range of communities and groups. Half of Toronto's population are immigrants and almost one in five residents are immigrants who arrived between 1996 and 2006. Residents reflect a broad range of cultures and traditions, representing more than 200 different ethno-cultural backgrounds (City of Toronto, n.d.). The city is home to a diversity of communities of colour, a strong Aboriginal community, a large lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community and an active community of people with disabilities.

Toronto's diversity has important implications for service providers designing culturally- and linguistically-appropriate programs and services to meet the needs of all city residents. Community organizations need sustained and predictable funding sources to meet the needs of diverse communities. The elevated rates of poverty in Toronto (about 1 in 4 residents), particularly among newcomers, racialized groups, Aboriginal people, lone mother families and residents with activity limitations highlight the need for both government action on income security and appropriate funding structures for organizations working on the front lines.

Toronto's population growth, now and into the future, is driven primarily by newcomers to Canada. But at present, poverty awaits nearly half of all newcomers to Toronto ? a highly racialized group. During the current economic downturn, labour shortages may not be a pressing issue. However, over the long run, with the aging population and the retiring of the baby-boomers, massive labour shortages are expected across Canada (HRSDC, 2007). To attract newcomers to live and stay in Toronto, we must deliver on the promise of good jobs, a liveable city and opportunity for all.

Growing Seniors Population, Are We Ready?

The number of seniors living in Toronto (and across the country) is growing by leaps and bounds, raising important questions for the public and non-profit sectors regarding the funding of seniors services and the capacity of these sectors to meet seniors' needs. While Toronto's overall population growth was just 4.9% between 1996 and 2006, the seniors population increased by more than 10%. The City of Toronto projects that the number of seniors living in Toronto will increase by 42% between 2001 and 2031, comprising 17% of the total population by 2031 (City of Toronto, Social Development, Finance and Administration Division, 2008).

Concerns regarding the well-being of seniors and those entering retirement are further heightened by the pension woes brought on by the global economic crisis and its impact on company pension plans and private retirement savings. The situation is worse in Toronto where the seniors poverty rate (21%, before tax) is 50% higher than the national rate, with even higher rates for recent immigrant seniors, seniors from racialized groups, Aboriginal seniors and seniors with activity limitations. Questions regarding the well-being and potential social isolation of seniors are particularly pertinent for Toronto with its higher proportions of seniors living alone (26.9% of all seniors compared to 22.6% in the Toronto CMA and 25.7% in Ontario).

Proper investments and careful planning are needed to identify and address current needs, and assess how needs of seniors will be met in the years to come. Federal government action is needed to re-evaluate income security programs for seniors that have left some groups behind, and to address the financial insecurity of seniors and new retirees due to the effects of the recession.

Toronto's Affordable Housing Crisis in Full Swing, New Cause for Hope

Canada's affordable housing crisis is felt locally in Toronto where almost half of tenant households pay 30% or more their incomes on shelter, and where average rents in the Toronto CMA have increased by at least 29% between 1996 and 2006, outpacing inflation, and have continued to rise in recent years (Bank of Canada, 2009; Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, 1996-2008). Issues of homelessness, overcrowding, poor quality housing and discrimination in housing persist.

Decades of government neglect have given rise to the current state of affordable housing in Toronto and across the country, but recent events are increasing the prospects for those lacking decent and affordable housing. The federal and Ontario governments have committed significant new funds to repair social housing and build new affordable housing for selected groups ? but funds are short-term and time limited only. Neither senior level of government has a long-term affordable housing plan, but the provincial government has initiated the development of such a plan. The federal government remains silent on the question. At the local level, the City of Toronto has developed its own 10-year affordable housing strategy. Real commitment will be measured in actions including long-term and sustainable funding to recognize the vital role of affordable housing and manifest our country's international commitment to the right to housing.

Poverty Persists, Highest Rates for Newcomers, Single Adults, Aboriginals, Lone Mothers, Racialized Groups, Children under 6 and People with Activity Limitations

Perhaps the most striking data presented in this report are in regard to poverty. While poverty rates have declined somewhat for economic families and the population in private households between 1995 and 2005, the data offer no cause for celebration. About 1 in 4 Toronto residents live in poverty (before tax). The poverty rate for individuals living alone or with non-relatives in Toronto is 41%, about the same as it was in 1995. Poverty rates are 46% for recent immigrants, 37% for Aboriginals and female lone parents, 33% for racialized groups, 32% for children under 6 and 30% for people with activity limitations. The poverty rate for seniors at 21% is 50% higher than the national rate.

The Ontario government has taken a ground-breaking step in developing a poverty reduction plan (Government of Ontario, 2008). The Province has introduced initiatives in its recent budget to begin to address child poverty. We applaud these recent actions but raise concerns about the narrow focus of the provincial plan on the reduction of child poverty. In Toronto, poverty affects large numbers of households without children, including 41% of residents who live alone or with non-relatives and over one in five seniors, with higher rates for newcomer seniors, racialized seniors, Aboriginal seniors and seniors with activity limitations.

The Province's goal of reducing child poverty by 25% in 5 years is a good start that needs to be expanded to include all Ontarians. To ensure that the provincial strategy reaches all communities, it will be important to monitor the impacts of the plan on specific groups, and shape programs and policies, through community consultation, to meet the needs of diverse communities.