vital signs toronto

How much has life in Toronto declined since the before times?

Whether you're living hand to mouth or at the top of the economic food chain, the pandemic has affected just about everyone's quality of life in Toronto and beyond in some capacity.

But just how bad have things become in a city that consistently ranks among the world's most liveable?

Well, it turns out life in Toronto isn't as rosy a picture as some make it out to be.

The 18th biennial Toronto's Vital Signs Report, released today, is delving deep into this question, tracking the various factors that combine to determine one's quality of life.

The 182-page report is a sobering breakdown of the city's declining health on the way out of a pandemic, including a surge in mental health issues and a growing wealth divide.

"At close to 200 pages and with more than 250 citations, the report is a massive collection of data and insights, the largest of its kind," says Sharon Avery, president and CEO, Toronto Foundation.

The report sheds light on troubling changes either brought on or exacerbated by lockdowns and the economic downturns of the last 19 months, more severe than what has been experienced in most other Canadian cities.

Mental and physical health have been a concern throughout the pandemic, the report citing 410,000 more people struggling with mental health than what was recorded just three years earlier.

Particularly worrisome is the steep rise in student mental health issues made worse by a lack of supports.

In 2017, 66 per cent of Toronto students reported feeling happy, a number which has been halved to 32 per cent in 2021. Less than one-third reported being hopeful for the future, down from 58 per cent, while twice as many report feelings of loneliness.

Older populations are suffering too, with a quarter-million more adults say they don't have someone to comfortably rely on when times get tough versus 2018, while 262,000 more adults are fighting to maintain their physique.

Some of the health challenges stem from a mounting affordability crisis, like the record total of 124,000 residents now relying on food banks in Toronto, a leap of 56,000 over the last report.

A gulf between the city's wealthiest and poorest residents only widened over the pandemic, with the city ravaged by rolling lockdowns that deprived many of their livelihoods. A staggering 650,000 adults in the city are now struggling to get by — a 140,000 spike over 2018.

"What we're seeing is that 650,000 Torontonians are struggling to make ends meet and are not positioned to recover without some help. After hearing from close to 300 nonprofit sector leaders and staff, we hope this report serves as a road map for a better, more inclusive and caring future pandemic response — prioritizing the most vulnerable and embracing the wellbeing of all," says Avery.

Since the pandemic hit, unemployment in the city has skyrocketed by 138,000, but things were worse in certain pockets of Toronto. The numbers show how racialized communities are especially susceptible, with racialized workers losing 20 per cent of their hours on average.

Affordability is a hot-button issue in Toronto, the commodification of housing pushing prices to mesospheric proportions that don't come close to reflecting income levels. This is allowing the rich to get richer at the expense of everyone else's rising housing costs.

Toronto's housing market is among the least affordable globally, ranking fifth in home prices to median household income out of the 92 most expensive markets.

Home prices in the city have inflated by an insane 213 per cent since 2005, while vacant rental units are going for 93 per cent more than they did in 2008.

There is so much more to unpack in the lengthy report, but much can be boiled down in a quote from Sharon Avery, stating that "Toronto is not well and we all have a role to play to help us get better."

Lead photo by

Jack Landau

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