A company called Career Builder yesterday released a list of what it called the ten hottest jobs in Toronto, based on data about the occupations with the fastest increases in employment between 2010 and 2013.
That made me wonder: how does Toronto compare to the rest of the country in overall job growth? And where are the engines of job growth?
You’d never know it, with all that "Go West, young man" talk, but Toronto’s importance in the national jobs landscape has been growing since the financial crisis. By 2013, Toronto accounted for almost half the jobs in Ontario (47.4 per cent) and just under one in five of all the jobs in Canada (18.4 per cent). That’s the highest proportion of the job market since 1987, when comparable data started being kept.
The second surprise came with the list of what’s hot and what’s not in the job-creation capital of Canada.
The biggest gain in any occupational category is in IT, computer and information systems professionals – jobs that pay a median wage of about $35 an hour. Welcome to the information society, for real.
There has also been rapid growth in employment of people in wholesale and technical sales, medical technologists and technicians, engineers, auditors and accountants, administrative support staff, and a solid increase in the number of managers in financial and business services. Bay Street, I’m looking at you.
But the big surprise was that three of the top four “hottest” jobs in Toronto over the past three years were retail sales clerks, labourers (not skilled tradesmen), and people working at food counters and in kitchens. These three occupations account for more than one-third of all the job growth in Toronto in the past three years, and their median pay hovers between $10.25 an hour, which is the minimum wage, and $13 an hour.
That has to feature in the thinking of the province as it reviews what the minimum wage should be. A growing proportion of our job market is at or near the lowest wage that the government permits, by law. The minimum wage in Ontario hasn’t increased since 2010 – though costs have certainly not flat-lined for these workers.
The top-10 list suggests there are really two sets of expanding job opportunities, at either end of the income spectrum – and not much in the middle.
If you're entering the labour market – say you’re young, or you’re a newcomer to Canada – there are lots of points of entry at the low end of the scale. But they are not generally the types of jobs that lead you down a career path to something better, nor do these jobs fully employ many workers’ skill sets. If you are lucky enough to find full-time, full-year work in these types of jobs, paying $13 an hour or less, you would be making $26,000 a year before taxes, or less.
There is another cluster of job opportunities that pay median wages of $35 an hour or more, which translates to $70,000 a year before taxes, or more.
There are fewer opportunities in the middle, jobs that pay in the $20-something per hour range.
For the past three years the job market has been expanding most quickly at both ends of the pay scale. That means the rungs on the income ladder are getting further apart. That’s important because, while there may be a lot of such jobs on offer, many low-paying positions don’t usually offer full-time full-year work, or abundant opportunities to grow into or apply mid-level skills.
And if you’re more experienced worker and you lose your job, there is a bigger chance you will fall further down the income ladder if more of the jobs being created aren’t in the middle.
There are plenty of other occupations that make up the job market and contribute to job growth, but when the 10 hottest jobs in the market reinforce a relentlessly widening gap in pay, expect to hear a lot more talk about income inequality down the road.
Armine Yalnizyan is senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. This blog is based on Ms. Yalnizyan’s twice-weekly business column on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning. You can follow her on Twitter @ArmineYalnizyan.