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Posted December 3, 2012

Martin Insight

Working Poor

Toronto - Of the numerous issues facing the City of Toronto, transit accessibility and growing income inequality are of primary importance. In previous Martin Prosperity Institute Insights, we looked at the relationship between transit, geography, and income in Toronto. Although lower income city residents are often the most transit dependent, this relationship is traditionally understudied. This Insight will further the analysis regarding transit and income in Toronto, by looking at the relationship between transit accessibility and the working poor population within the different neighbourhoods of the city.

Employment is often seen as essential to increasing social mobility as it can often alleviate and reverse individual or family poverty. In their recent report “The Working Poor in the Toronto Region”, the Metcalf Foundation critically analyzes the notion that any job is a good job. The foundation discusses the prevalence of an increasing working poor population within Toronto. Metcalf defines the working poor as someone who:

• has an after-tax income below the Low Income Measure (LIM),
• has earnings of at least $3,000 a year,
• is between the ages of 18 and 64,
• is not a student, and
• lives independently

Toronto’s working poor possess similar characteristics and challenges with many of the city’s citizens living in extreme poverty due to unemployment. Both groups are likely to find it difficult to be able to afford a car, which in turn severely limits their access to key services. Getting to work, grocery shopping, taking children to school, and medical appointments are just a few of the daily tasks that are easier to accomplish by those who own a personal vehicle or live in areas well serviced by public transit. Furthermore, the employment patterns of low-paying service class occupations also often follow inconsistent and non-traditional work schedules. As such, having consistent access to reliable and affordable transit is crucial to their long-term employability.

As previous MPI Insight’s have revealed, many of Toronto’s transit deserts are located in parts of the city with the lowest average incomes. It is not surprising then, that a similar deficiency of transit accessibility was found amongst some of the city’s working poor. For example, we found communities with a greater than 20% share of its population being working poor residents, have an average transit score of 23.45. In comparison, the average transit score for the city of Toronto
is 41.10.

The map below illustrates the relationship between transit accessibility and the working poor. The TTC Subway lines are shown in black. Darker grey indicates that a higher percentage of working poor lives in that particular area. The red census tracts on the map reveal the areas in Toronto that have a combination of the lowest or second lowest transit accessibility scores along with having either the highest or second highest working poor share, indicating areas of particular concern.

Exhibit 1: Working poor share

Except for a few tracts within the downtown core, many of the areas with high concentrations of the working poor are scattered throughout distant neighbourhoods and are poorly served by transit. Those tracts in the downtown core with high working poor shares are well served by public transit and as such do not appear as red on our map. The high cost of living within certain downtown communities often excludes the working poor from living there.

The areas with the lowest transit accessibility and highest working poor shares, illustrated by dark red, generally correspond directly to struggling neighbourhoods in the city, such as Rexdale and Kingston/Galloway (West Hill). When looking at the census tracts demarcated with medium shades of red, communities such as Malvern, University Heights (Jane & Finch), Flemingdon Park, and L’Amoreaux are highlighted. The long and arduous commute times from these areas makes it difficult for local residents to commute to many of the City’s economic, social, and cultural institutions in other parts of the city.

Many of the highlighted areas in Exhibit 1 are within City of Toronto’s 13 Priority Neighbourhoods that are experiencing extensive poverty. These red areas have a larger percentage of working poor that often depend on transit for their livelihood. Because social mobility is directly affected by employment and employment depends on the ability to travel to and from the workplace, efficient and accessible transportation for the working poor is crucial. As wage inequality continues to grow in the city of Toronto, it is necessary to not only examine the relationship between transit and unemployment, but also the relationship of transit with low income employed citizens.

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