Decimation of the Middle Class in Scarborough/Toronto, Canada

Anyone who lives here in Scarborough, Ontario, Canada, a suburb of Toronto, can tell you that incomes have markedly dropped. We see it in our schools and neighbourhood. A Toronto Star article on the widening income gaps here in Toronto brought me to a couple interesting maps by Dr. J. David Hulchanski. His paper “Report: The 3 Cities within Toronto, Income Polarization, 2007” gives much food for thought.

Dr. Hulchanski’s paper includes a couple of maps of Toronto by change in income from 1970 to 2000. It is a very sobering map for those of us who live in Scarborough, a suburb of Toronto. It is not that we are special, because other suburbs of Toronto have also experienced similar income drops.

Putting it on more of a very local perspective, and the fact that I really like maps, I have superimposed Dr. Hulchanski’s maps on a Scarborough map from Google. This will allow you to find your street, local school and home, to see first-hand how you are affected. Both maps used the same legend. By mapping the data out down to your street and neighbourhood there is no uncertainty on how the long-term trends for income have affected your neighbourhood.

Scarborough, Toronto Map by income gap 1970. Most of Scarborough is middle class.

Scarborough, Toronto Map by income gap 1970. Most of Scarborough is middle class.

From the 1970s income gap map you can see that most of Scarborough was middle class, with a few pockets that were 20-40% better off. Data taken from the year 200 shows a markedly different trend. Most of areas of Scarborough have incomes of between 20-40% less than the mean, with a scant few achieving Middle class status. Why this has happened I do not know.

Definitions of the Three Cities

[City #1:] Neighbourhoods within which the average income of the population increased by more than 20% on average between 1970 and 2000 are striped in blue on Map 1. These neighbourhoods represent 20% of the city (103 census tracts) and are generally located near the centre of the city and close to the city’s two subway lines. This area includes some of the waterfront, much of the area south of Bloor Street and Danforth Avenue (where gentrification is taking place), and in central Etobicoke, an area that from the time of its initial development has been an enclave of higher-income people. We will call this City #1.

[City #2:] The neighbourhoods that have changed very little, that is, in which the average income of individuals 15 years and over went up or down by no more than 20%, have been left white on Map 1. This area represents 43% of the city (224 of the 527 census tracts). For the most part, this group of neighbourhoods is in the middle, located between the other two groups of neighbourhoods. This is City #2.

[City #3:] Neighbourhoods within which the average income of the population decreased between 1970 and 2000 are shown as solid brown on Map 1. These neighbourhoods comprise about one-third (36%) of the city’s neighbourhoods (192 census tracts). They are mainly located in the northern half of the city outside the central corridor along Yonge Street and the Yonge Street subway. This is City #3. pp. 4

In short, the City of Toronto, over a 30-year period, ceased being a city with a majority of neighbourhoods (66%) in which residents’ average incomes were near the middle and very few neighbourhoods (1%) with very poor residents. Middle-income neighbourhoods are now a minority and half of the city’s neighbourhoods are low-income. pp 4…

Ethnicity. City #1 is mainly White (84%) and has very few Black, Chinese, or South Asian people, who are disproportionately found in City #3 (lines 8, 9, 10). Only 10% of City #1
compared to 43% of City #3 are Black, Chinese or South Asian. In most of the characteristics listed on Table 1, City #2 is close to the overall City of Toronto average. pp 6…

Immigrants. In City #1, the percentage of foreign-born people declined from 35% to 32% between 1970 and 2000, whereas in City #3 the number of immigrants increased dramatically over the 30-year period (line 31); in 2001, 62% of the population of City #3 was not born in Canada. City #2 is close to the citywide average of 50%. This pattern has changed over time. Immigrants who arrived in Canada between 1961 and 1981 were found in all areas of the city in 2001 (line 32). In the past 20 years, however, 1981 to 2001, the proportion of immigrants in City #1 remained at about 12%, while the proportion in City #2 increased to 25% and
that in City #3 to 42% (line 32). pp 7…

Travel. Residents of City #3, the neighbourhoods with the lowest average income, have to travel farther to find employment (line 49), yet they have the poorest access to the Toronto Transit Commission’s subway stations (line 52). Only 16 of the system’s 68 subway stations are within or near City #3. pp 8…

Scarborough, Toronto Map by income gap 2000. Most of Scarborough is 20-40% below middle income.

Scarborough, Toronto Map by income gap 2000. Most of Scarborough is 20-40% below middle income.

Income legend for the above two maps, Scarborough, Toronto, Canada.

Income legend for the above two maps, Scarborough, Toronto, Canada.

The City of Toronto is no longer a city in which a majority of neighbourhoods (66%) accommodate residents with average incomes and very few neighbourhoods (1%) have very
poor residents (Figure 1). In 2000, only a third of the city’s neighbourhoods (32%) were middle income, while exactly half of the city’s neighbourhoods, compared to 19% in 1970, had
residents whose incomes were well below the average for the Toronto area. It is not the case that middle-income people in the city have simply moved to the outer suburbs, since the
trends are largely the same in those areas too.

It is common to say that people “choose” their neighbourhoods, but it’s money that buys choice. Many people in Toronto have little money and thus few choices. Those with money and many choices can outbid those without for the highest-quality housing, the most desirable neighbourhoods, and the best access to services. When most of the population of a city is in the middle-income range, city residents can generally afford what the market has to offer, since they make up the majority in the marketplace and therefore drive prices in the housing market. pp 10…


The polarization of the city need not continue. It is not inevitable. The jurisdiction and financial capacity of the federal and provincial government are sufficient to reverse the trend. A wealthy nation can use its resources to make a difference. Income support programs that keep up with inflation and are based on the cost of living and tax relief for households in the bottom fifth of the income scale can address inequality. Assistance with the most expensive budget item, housing, through social housing and rent supplement programs (which exist in most Western nations), will allow more of a household’s meagre monthly income to be available for other essentials.

The provincial and municipal governments could implement specific policies to help maintain and promote mixed neighbourhoods. These include inclusionary zoning, whereby any medium-to-large residential developments must include 15% or 20% rental and affordable units. Also, the Province of Ontario could keep its promise to end vacancy decontrol – the right of landlords to charge whatever they wish for a rental unit when a tenant moves ? and thereby prevent the displacement of low-income residents in gentrifying areas.

The segregation of the city by socio-economic status need not continue. It can be slowed and reversed. pp 11

What to say to all this, I know not. We struggle here in the suburbs. Jobs are not plentiful and we travel much farther than others. How this will play out in the future I do not know. For sure I believe that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was elected because he more closely aligns with the poorer suburbs, rather than those politicians from the downtown core. For that I am thankful. What he actually does that is beneficial for Scarborough I do not know. He can still be daft and be from the suburbs, though I would hope not.

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