The Star and Toronto’s May Warren has reported on the cleaving of class in Toronto, where the downtown has service sector jobs, but the people in those jobs do not have affordable housing close to their workplace.

Warren observes“This dynamic of lower-paid suburban workers servicing downtown’s bankers, lawyers and “creative class Sunshine List professionals” is turning the city into a kind of “Downton Abbey,” according to one researcher who’s studied the phenomenon. It’s a divide that could lead to labour shortages in the core — as service workers forced to commute farther and farther lose the incentive to take those positions.”

While some service workers still live in the downtown around Kensington Market and Queen Street East, the numbers are in the 10 to 20% range, with suburbs in Scarborough and Etobicoke housing 30 to 35% of service workers.

So why do these workers commute to downtown jobs? One hotel worker noted  “Suburb hotels, they very rarely offer anything that’s at the point over minimum wage,” and there is a diversity of job opportunities in downtown hotels.

In a a 2015 report about “the working poor,” the Metcalf Foundation found the Toronto region had the largest amount of working poor in Canada with 9 per cent, or 264,000 adults living on poverty level wages. The reason for this high level of low wage earners was “a lack of better paying mid-range jobs, combined with higher rental and real-estate prices, driving lower paid workers farther out into the suburbs, and even into illegal rooming houses in Scarborough and North York.”

The lack of newly built subsidized housing means the “Manhattanization” of downtown Toronto, with commuters going longer distances to afford housing. There is also discussion about how to ensure workers across sectors can live within the city. The case of  Vancouver’s Solly’s bagel shop which had to temporarily close a location due to the lack of  employees is cited as a distinct possibility for Toronto too.

Ontario was to increase the minimum wage from 14 to 15 dollars an hour in January, but Ontario Premier Ford has said that will not be enacted. As Toronto concentrates service and sales industries downtown without supportive affordable housing and accessible quick transit, labour shortages and business closures are expected to increase in the coming years.


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