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In Toronto, earning a minimum wage is simply not enough

New report concludes that Torontonians need to earn at least $46,186/year in order to “thrive”

It is close to impossible to live on minimum wage if you’re an urban dweller in Canada’s largest city — it will in fact take an annual income that is double the minimum wage income to “thrive” in Toronto, according to a study from the Wellesley Institute, a nonprofit policy think-tank based in Toronto.

For a single working-age person between 25 and 40, the cost of “thriving” in Toronto, which the report defines as having a standard of living that is “more than just food and shelter” is between $46,186 and $55,432 a year.


The current minimum wage worker in Ontario earns just over $20,000, after taxes. Minimum wages are expected to rise to $15 an hour by 2019, but even then the average worker will only make $25,500, exactly half of what it costs to thrive. Almost two million Ontarians, or roughly 30 percent of the province’s labour force works a minimum wage job. That’s in fact double the number of minimum wage jobs that existed in Ontario back in 2001.

The most substantial living costs in Toronto, says the report, are associated with “shelter, savings and debt”.

“While there may be room for adjustment in personal spending based on an individual’s preferences (for example, forgoing restaurant meals or gym memberships), such changes amount to a small proportion of the overall cost, and are unlikely to close this substantial gap.”

Here’s how the authors of this report came to the $46,186 – $55,432 range:

Food: $3,605 per year

The report suggests that Toronto dwellers between 19 and 30 spend roughly $300 per month on food — “groceries, paper, plastic and foil supplies”. The tabulation does not account for the cost of eating out, presumably because dining out is considered a luxury in Toronto.

Shelter: $14,225 – $21,926 per year

There were two scenarios included in this calculation. First, a renter in Toronto spends perhaps $1,336 per month on average to rent a studio apartment in the city. A homeowner in Mississauga would spend roughly $1,600 to $1,800 on everything from a mortgage to maintenance fees to property taxes and utilities, at the very minimum. Anything less than that falls under the bare minimum required to “thrive” in Toronto.

Transportation: $2,400 – $6,414 per year

If you live in Toronto, you might be paying quite a bit more in rent, but you’re saving on transport. This report suggests that the monthly cost of transport is roughly $200, which is a fair estimate: $146 for a metropass, and an extra $54 for perhaps cabs or Ubers when public transportation is not available. The report actually estimates that you will spend much more as a car user commuting from a suburb — roughly $535 a month — mainly due to car insurance.

The authors of the report included other expenses that they felt necessary to achieve a semi-decent standard of living in Toronto, ones that minimum wage workers would probably have to forego — $562 for physical activity, $2,179 for any kind of health treatment not covered by Ontario’s Health Insurance Plan, $1,826 for personal care and hygiene, and close to $6,000 for “social participation”.

What was also interesting was the inclusion of “savings and debt” as part of the overall calculation of what it takes to “thrive” in Toronto. In total, the report estimated that an average Torontonian spends between $11,655 and $12,901 on repaying debt and saving, which is roughly $100 a month.

“This cost of thriving provides a way to understand the gap between the current environment and one that allows everyone to thrive, and can be a starting point for a broader conversation about what is really needed to improve health and health equity in the GTA,” the report concluded.

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