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At the Toronto Foundation’s Vital Signs report launch event (from left) Jay Pitter, award-winning placemaker and author, and grassroots leaders Bri Gardner and Mussarat Ejaz.supplied

Toronto gained an additional 77,000 residents last year, making it the fastest growing city in North America. But along with the population gain came community pain, according to the 17th edition of Toronto’s Vital Signs report released recently by the Toronto Foundation, an organization that aims to connect philanthropy to community needs and opportunities. The report reveals the harsh realities of a city facing increasingly entrenched inequality despite massive growth. Youth, newcomers and racialized communities are experiencing significantly worse outcomes when compared with white, long-time residents across the 10 issues areas examined by the report.

Toronto Foundation president and CEO Sharon Avery says in spite of the way many Torontonians see themselves, the city doesn’t work for everyone.

“In fact, for a growing majority, life in the city poses a serious struggle, and the trend lines suggest things will get worse before they get better,” she says. “For those who think that things are no tougher today, Toronto’s Vital Signs is a wake-up call. We’ve compiled more data than ever before, and the evidence is clear: inequality is the new normal.”

While the city’s GDP grew by 3.2 per cent annually between 2011 and 2016 – almost twice the national growth rate – income and wealth disparity widened, exacerbated by the stagnant incomes of racialized populations, newcomers and young people who have had no inflation-adjusted increases over the last 30 years. In contrast, Canadian-born, white residents have seen their incomes rise by as much as 60 per cent, according to the report.

“The report confirms that the old ways aren’t working. New voices and new actors are needed at the table to fight inequality,” says Ms. Avery.

“Many small and mid-sized charities in Toronto are doing the tough work to fight inequality, but need more financial support to scale up their successes,” says Ms. Avery. “That’s why we’ve launched the Toronto’s Vital Signs Grants, which will recognize 25 Toronto community leaders and organizations for their visionary work tackling quality of life issues in the city each year.”

“We want to build a culture of reciprocity in this city,” she says.

Other key finding in the report that illustrate the divide include:

  • Toronto is regularly listed as one of the best places to live, but housing prices have grown four times faster than income.
  • While there have been new investments in transit, two-thirds of unemployed residents live in parts of the city with low access to transit, making it harder for people without jobs to find jobs.
  • More people are feeling a sense of connection and belonging to the city but are volunteering less of their time, and those earning less are contributing a higher percentage of their income.
  • Torontonians are physically healthier and have a higher life expectancy than other Canadians, but the city is also one of the least happy cities in Canada with a growing youth mental health crisis and low life satisfaction.
  • Toronto is among the most educated cities in the world, but high school students in the lowest income groups are three times more likely to drop out than those in the highest income groups.
  • After a decade of decreasing crime rates, major crimes have been increasing in Toronto and the rest of Canada, although it is still far lower than 15 years ago. However, Toronto’s highest crime neighbourhoods have more than 50 times the rate of crime as the lowest.

The report was reviewed by 25 of the city’s grassroots leaders who provided their feedback. It also reflects the feedback from scores of individuals and includes policy recommendations from experts in the sector.


Advertising feature produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved in its creation.