About the Poverty and Employment Precarity in Southern Ontario Research Alliance

The inspiration for this CURA comes from a United Way Toronto (UWT) report, Losing Ground: The Persistent Growth of Family Poverty in Canada’s Largest City. It documented the growth of household poverty in Toronto and its association with precarious employment. Hamilton, Peel and York have conducted similar studies with similar findings as have community agencies in these communities. The evidence suggests that precarious employment relationships compound the problem of poverty in our communities, the capacity of households to deal with it, and the ability of agencies to advocate for new policy initiatives. In Canada, academic research points to an increase in precarious employment and has begun assessing the impact on individuals, households and communities.

Poverty is not a new issue in our communities; however the combination of low pay and new forms of insecure employment may be having effects beyond the workplace with implications for household and community well-being as well as inhibiting people’s capacity to participate more generally as citizens. The research will address issues such as the impact of precarity on household formation and family stability. How are changing labour market relationships affecting parent-child relationships within families? Is insecure employment and a lack of control over work schedules transforming how households function and how individuals interact in our communities? What is the impact of reduced employment benefits such as sick pay, pensions and health benefits on household well-being? Is the inability to secure permanent employment creating barriers for families looking to borrow money to establish a household or hampering the ability of newcomers to integrate fully into Canadian society? How are individuals moving along a career path in the absence of a long-term relationship with a single employer?

The UWT was sufficiently concerned about these trends that they took the initiative in 2008 to form their own community-university research group, the Precarious Employment Research Group (PERG). PERG provided the intellectual leadership for the development of this CURA proposal that now includes over twenty community partners from across southern Ontario and university researchers from various Canadian and foreign universities. Through surveys administered by Statistics Canada and six related case studies, this CURA will assess a series of questions related to individual, household and community well-being. The components of the project are designed to complement each other and to approach similar questions using different research methodologies and/or sample frames. The objective is to provide a comprehensive database to facilitate a deeper understanding of how society is changing in the face of changing labour market dynamics.

This CURA will satisfy a research need identified by the UWT, and other community agencies, to gather data on trends in precarious employment and to encourage policy debate. Much of the evidence regarding precarious employment and its impact on households and communities is anecdotal and, without solid quantitative research, it has been impossible to influence public policy. Other countries in Europe have begun collecting data on this issue and one of the core goals of the CURA is to create a survey to help communities track changes in employment relationships and their implications. We need a “made in Canada” survey that addresses Canadian needs and can be used across the country. The potential impact of the project is significant in that it offers a new way of understanding the implications of poverty in contemporary Canadian society by looking at one of its root causes, namely precarious employment. The project will leave a legacy of enhanced community capacity to conduct research and to advocate on behalf of those most affected by changing labour market dynamics.

Wayne Lewchuk