By PATRICK HUNTER
This is a worrisome report by the United Way Toronto. The Opportunity Equation was published last week and shows that income inequality between the rich and the poor in Toronto has grown by 31 per cent over the past 25 years. To put this in a national context, the report notes that inequality across the country has grown considerably. Toronto, however, is outpacing the rest of the country by 14 per cent.
“Overall, we find that fairness is being undermined in our city – growing income inequality is creating an uneven playing field for opportunity. Hard work and determination are not a guarantee for success – a person’s background and circumstances have a far greater influence on their future. As a result, income inequality is creating barriers for people to access the opportunities they need to build a good life – quality jobs, affordable housing or meaningful social networks. In effect, the opportunity equation – hard work plus access to opportunity leads to success – is breaking down.”
I am sure that most of you can imagine how depressing this is, particularly for persons in the African Canadian community who are frequently holding down multiple precarious or part-time jobs, just to keep a roof over their heads and their children fed.
“Hard work and determination are not a guarantee for success.”
This latter opinion is shared by 73 per cent of people surveyed. Frankly, it almost sounds like someone trying to climb to the top of an escalator that’s going in the wrong direction. A possible outcome of that effort is that if one stumbles and falls…well, you get the picture.
To be fair, this is not just about persons of African descent in Toronto. There are many diverse communities that are caught up is this scenario. But, as we know, the effect on our community is significantly more serious. Members of our community tend to face higher rates of unemployment and are usually found in lower-paying jobs – jobs with limited prospects for advancement.
The United Way report also suggests a “blueprint” to improve the prospects. One of them focuses on youth. The report suggests “partnerships between sectors to enable youth success in education and employment, especially youth facing multiple barriers”. In effect, the blueprint seems to rely largely on the goodwill of the private sector to rally together to create greater job-creation impact. I think we have been down this path before with limited success. What does one have to do to show that the private sector, for the most part, is not geared towards altruism?
While I believe that United Way Toronto’s intentions are good in suggesting creative ways to improve the prospects for youth, it seems to let the different levels of government off the hook, especially past governments. I suspect that the report writers didn’t want to lay blame. But I can.
When the Mike Harris Progressive Conservative took over the government of Ontario in 1995, almost without skipping beat, it proceeded to make some fundamental changes to the socio-political landscape. Those changes, which in part preached less government spending, attacked and destroyed largely the social infrastructure, without contemplating the short and long-term effects of those policies. All they saw was cutting back on spending, and the most politically advantageous way was to cut back on social programs. The net result was that many organizations and programs that support income equality (in its broadest sense) – support for education, training and apprenticeship; barrier-removal in access to jobs – fell by the wayside. They were not seen as producing, but rather as taking.
Today’s federal government is on a similar track. Balance the budget at all costs, never mind the consequences to social programs.
The cost of living in Toronto is high. Just this week saw the beginning of a fare hike in public transportation and, at the same time, gas prices have started on its upward trek after a brief “holiday”.
Renting in Toronto, let alone buying a home, is almost out of the question. Condominium apartments are now fetching prices that not too long ago could have got you a fully detached house. And so, most people have to flee to the suburbs and, if you work downtown, you have to rely on public transit or a car. In fact you may need two cars, one for you to get to your job, and one for your spouse to get to his or hers.
This is the socio-economic milieu that our young people are inheriting, and that is not taking into account the “normal” barriers of race and gender.
Thus relying just on the goodwill of the private sector and governments getting together to change the state of being is “pie-in-the-sky” thinking. Governments have the wherewithal to develop sound planning and leadership. Sure, there are times when the world’s economies have a negative effect on local economies and therefore adjustments have to be made. And the economy of Ontario, and Toronto, is changing.
So, the United Way report is useful from the point of view that it alerts us to a very critical problem. On the other hand, it comes as a depressing reminder that governments frequently ignore or fail to act on reports like these.
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