New Study Highlights Alarming Rise of Precarious Jobs in Toronto, Hamilton

February 27, 2013, 3:20 PM EST


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One-half of workers in the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton work in a precarious job or jobs that are unstable, according to a new study released by the United Way Toronto and McMaster University.

The 115-page study, entitled It's More than Poverty: Employment Precarity and Household Well-Being, offers a comprehensive look at the prevalence of both stable and precarious forms of employment across workplaces in the GTA and Hamilton, including the regions of Durham, Peel, Halton and York.

The study found that at least 20 percent of those working are in precarious forms of employment, including temporary or impermanent contract jobs, jobs that offer no benefits, have erratic work schedules and offer low pay, among other characteristics. Additionally, precarious employment in the region has increased by 50 percent in the past 20 years.

The report offers a realistic assessment of how Canada's labour market has transformed over the last number of decades, said CAW National Representative Cammie Peirce, who is assisting in various elements of the study.

"Too much emphasis is put on the number of jobs being created as a measure of our economic well-being. That's increasingly not the case, especially since more of our jobs become more precarious," Peirce said. "Policy-makers can't keep sitting on their laurels thinking all is well when, in fact, it's not."

The United Way/McMaster study also drew connections between precarious work and its negative impact on household well-being. Study participants (mainly those identified as low- and middle-income earners) cited increased levels of stress and anxiety with their job that interferes with family life, household activities and the increased likelihood of running out of money to buy food, for example.

Half of the workers identified as "insecure" in the study were living in households that earned between $50,000 and $100,000 per year, an unexpected finding according to study author Wayne Lewchuk.

"What we didn't expect to see was how much precarious work has crept into middle-income households," Lewchuk said in an interview with the Toronto Star. "The impact is even being felt in upper-income levels."

In fact, the study found participants categorized as working precariously were more concerned about money and suffer more stress than low-income earners who are not considered precariously employed.

The report, released on February 25, is the first in a series of six case studies to be released over the coming years as part of the larger Precarious Employment and Poverty in Southern Ontario (PEPSO) project. Future reports will focus on issues including in the community services sector and undocumented workers in Canada.

The full text of the study can be downloaded here: http://www.socialsciences.mcmaster.ca/pepso

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