Poverty Task Force/United Way Community Update # 50

Dear Colleagues,

Precarious employment is one important variable influencing the extent to which individuals are able to withstand the economic fluctuations caused by COVID-19. The Four County Labour Market Planning Board has been delving deeper into precarious employment with a series of COVID-19 Impact Surveys

  • National and provincial research both show that those who were more vulnerable to economic changes and labour market instability before COVID-19 have experienced greater hardships due to the pandemic. They are more likely to be currently unemployed or working in jobs with less stability. They are also more likely to be working in sectors where work cannot be performed remotely, thereby creating stress due to the often additional risk of exposure, as well as needed access to childcare for parents required to work outside the home during this pandemic. The local survey data aligns with these overall findings.
  • Compared to those who are not precariously employed, individuals who are currently precariously employed are more likely to be: younger, have lower educational attainment and approximately 1 in 4 respondents has at least one dependent child living at home. 
  • The Spring 2020 survey analyzes the results in order to understand the initial impact COVID-19 had on our local workforce. 
    • Locally, the Stratford-Bruce Peninsula Economic Region saw unemployment move from 5.9% in March to 9.3% in May 2020, with a corresponding decrease in the number of people employed in the region. In order to understand the impact of COVID-19 on the local workforce, the Four County Labour Market Planning Board conducted an anonymous and confidential survey  between April and June 2020. 
    • When asked about the extent to which respondents felt confident in their ability to continue to work or to find work after the COVID-19 crisis, 22% responded that they strongly disagreed or somewhat disagreed with this statement. 
    • Respondents were also asked about the extent to which COVID-19 was impacting key household considerations. As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, the following percentage of respondents are somewhat or significantly more worried about their ability to pay bills, have enough food and to pay rent/mortgage.
  • The Fall 2020 surveyreviews the results when there were signs of economic recovery in order to understand the ongoing impacts of the pandemic. 
    • The survey reveals that approximately 25% of respondents are concerned about their ability to continue working or find new work after the pandemic.
    • This finding may provide opportunities for local training programs, employment counsellors and other supportive services to assist those whose employment status may be more uncertain than it was before COVID-19.
    • Similarly, the 33% of respondents who reported that COVID-19 has had a substantial impact on their ability to pay for basic necessities could be targeted for additional support and services in our local communities. 

The Planning Board is working on an ongoing project exploring the impact of different scenarios that may emerge in the next 12-24 months, and how they will impact both the workforce and employers in our region. For more information about the COVID-19 Scenario-Based Planning project, please see www.planningboard.ca or contact Tingting Zhang tingting@planningboard.ca

  • The Ontario government has announced it is expanding the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) to include nearly 600 micro-credential programs. Through this initiative, the province is ensuring loans and grants will be available to more learners looking to rapidly upskill and reskill for the in-demand jobs of today and tomorrow. 

The Community Foundation Grey Bruce has been surveying the Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on the Not-For-Profit Sector. Two surveys have been carried out with the first in April/May 2020 and the second in early 2021. 
In April/May 2020 local organizations remained optimistic about the future. The survey results revealed that many local organizations are concerned about financial difficulties, even possibly facing closures in the future, but anticipate an increased need for their services, particularly related to food security and mental health support. 

  • Of the respondents, 87% identified the cancellation of events and/or fundraising activities as a challenge being experienced. 
  • Over 40% of the organizations face financial difficulties and many will need to adjust how they operate to remain viable in the future. 
  • The current restrictions have resulted in 60% of local organizations closing until these restrictions can be lifted with many organizations concerned about how they will generate momentum for public gatherings. Aside from their own impact from COVID-19, many respondents identified the loss of income and jobs as the biggest concern for our community and are worried about the closure of many small businesses and organizations. As the community continues to face uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, many organizations have found new ways to work and are encouraged by the way locals have come together to help each other demonstrate a strong sense of community. 

Recently, these same organizations were surveyed to see how they are doing as the pandemic continues: 

  • The survey results show that fundraising continues to be a challenge for many area charities.  About a third (34%) of organizations responding to the survey, indicated they have only been able to maintain less than 25% of their fundraising compared to the previous years while 22% reported that they were able to maintain 75 to 100% of their fundraising goals.
  • In terms of ranking the type of funding that their organization needs to keep their doors open, 42% of respondents identified operational funding as their top need.  Program grants were second in ranking overall.
  • Other comments made by respondents included the challenges of technology for themselves and their clients, increased operating costs of program delivery, donor fatigue and struggles with engagement of members, volunteers, clients, and the community during these difficult times.
  • Community knowledge helps the Community Foundation grant strategically. Local charities and non-profits organizations across Grey and Bruce counties are invited to apply for Community Grants with a deadline of April 15, 2021.  For this intake only, the allowance for operational support for projects has been increased to a total of 25% of the budget. Visit ://communityfoundationgreybruce.com/grants/community/ to access the online application form.


  • Housing vacancy rates remain low and finding available housing for vulnerable people is still very challenging. 
    • Women’s Shelters still remain at 50% capacity and second stage housing is maintaining wait lists as they are extending stays and searching for homes for women and their families. 
    • Organizations are seeing an increase in Indigenous people needing housing – those that are leaving jails, moving off-reserve or coming from other regions. 
    • The YMCA Housing and M’Wikwedong are working with children’s services with many young people age 16-17 to find appropriate housing and supports. 
    • The YMCA completed a recent update of COVID19 protocols with motels that are serving as shelters and re-stocked COVID19 PPE. 
    • While affordable housing is a key topic for many municipalities and new housing task forces are being created, we are also seeing a need do more community education with more “Yes, In My Backyard” or YIMBY campaigns. 
  • The province has announced funding to retirement homes. It will provide Grey Bruce retirement homes with $417,920.10 in funding to assist with COVID-19 costs such as hiring, training and testing additional staff, and sanitizing residences and purchasing supplies to prevent and contain the spread of infection. This funding is in addition to the $30.9 million that the province provided retirement homes earlier in the pandemic.


  • An OPIOID Alert has gone out from the Grey Bruce Health Unit. Please see the attached alert for more details on the warning and available supports. Please circulate!  
  • Safe ‘N Sound and the United Way of Bruce Grey have worked together to provide compensation for returning needles or “sharps” in sharp containers. In June 2020, some 16,000 needles were returned. To date, 33,540 needles have been returned. 


  • 9 Grey Bruce Community Partners have provided more than 150,000 free, hot and frozen meals to vulnerable residents in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • The Food Bruce Grey app shows an average of nearly 400 of the prepared meals are now provided each day and a monthly record was set in February of 15,900 meals distributed. 
  • Many of these programs are “at capacity” and cannot do much more with the staffing and volunteer resources they have. The volunteer efforts have been incredible and along with the staff of these agencies they are heroes in responding to the pandemic! Most likely these meals will continue throughout the spring and summer as curbside services. 


SAVE THE DATE – the next Poverty Task Force meeting is Friday, April 23rd, 10am-11:30am.

Stay well, Jill 

Ontario’s Labour Reform: a Bruce Grey Poverty Task Force Update

The Bruce Grey Poverty Task Force supports employment situations that are fair, secure, safe and provide employees with a Living Wage. These are minimum standards necessary in the elimination of poverty.  We have published a Labour Reform Infographic 2018 that summarizes the recent changes and what it means for us locally.  As changes made to Ontario’s Employment Standards and Labour Relations Act come into place, it is important to reflect how these changes will impact those affected by poverty locally.

30% of employed Ontarians in non-Metro Census Divisions are paid a low wage.  That is a large percentage of people locally who may be paid a low wage and then we have to consider that some of the changes also change precarious work practices.

  • Minimum wage increase to $14/hr effective 1 Jan 2018
  • Minimum wage increase to $15/hr effective 1 Jan 2019
  • Equal pay for equal work
  • Updated regulations around shift scheduling
  • 3 hours pay for shifts cut to less than 3 hours or cancelled less than 48 hours in advance
  • 10 emergency leave days, including 2 paid sick days per year
  • Card-based voting for unionization
  • Hiring aditional employment standards officers (for greater enforcement and accountability)

What does this mean? 

  • More than 1 million of Ontario’s lowest wage employees received a big raise, the most signficant in almost 50 years.
  • Flexibility and stability through advance notice of scheduling and paid sick time will be afforded to all workers.
  • Quality of life, in the form of health and family outcomes, improves with higher income and decreased employment precarity.
  • Keeping money local. When the lowest wage workers earn extra income, they are able to spend money on necessities within their own communities. They are able to buy more and better groceries, warm clothes for their children and keep up with bills.

What’s the downside? 

We have heard from people with low-incomes, as well as from service providers that work closely with marginalized populations that they are concerned about possible negative impacts. They are anticipating lay-offs, increases in ‘under the table’ hiring, and fewer jobs overall.  Some employers have already reduced hours, raised prices or eliminated other non-mandated perks previously offered to employees.

While those for, against, and ambivalent to these changes can all cite evidence that supports their perspective, the Poverty Task Force is of the view that these changes will be beneficial overall. We also believe it will be important to measure actual outcomes closely.  We shall continue to monitor the impacts locally and will always advocate with and for lower income, precarious workers.




Losing Ground – Income Inequality in Ontario

A new analysis by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) – Losing Ground Income Inequality in Ontario, 2000-15  describes an increasingly “polarized” Ontario labour market that is shifting away from stable manufacturing jobs to more precarious service sector work and rewarding higher-earning families while punishing poorer ones.

The report  examines 15 years of income inequality for families raising
children in Ontario (2000 to 2015), comparing it with national data for context,
and finds several disturbing trends.

The data reveal that the top half of Ontario families take home 81 per
cent of earnings; the bottom half of families take home only 19 per cent.
What’s more, the richest families in Ontario earned almost 200 per cent of
the average family’s earnings in 2013–15.

It is a story of sustained labour market income inequality that is being
driven by slow economic growth and increases in precarious work. Simply
put, lower–middle class and working poor families are losing ground.
The Ontario data show a drop in the share of earnings for families in the
bottom half, falling from 22 per cent in 2000–02 to 19 per cent in 2013–15.
That income shifted from the bottom half to the top half of the income distribution:
the top half’s share of earnings rose from 78 per cent in 2000–02
to 81 per cent in 2013–15.

On a national level, the story of income inequality among Canadian families
hasn’t changed much since 2000. The lion’s share of earnings goes to
the richest families, at the expense of the rest. Nationally, families in the
bottom half of the earnings distribution saw their share of earnings flatline
at 21 per cent between 2000–02 and 2013–15.

Dynamics within the labour market are at issue. The experience since the turn of the century clearly indicates that Ontario needs a raise. And that proposed changes to labour market rules in the province’s Bill 148 (Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017)—which among other crucial reforms would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by January 2019—are long overdue.

It’s about fairness. It’s about changing labour laws to reflect a seismic
shift in Ontario’s labour market. It’s about requiring employers to do their
part to reduce labour market inequality.



A Rise in Living Wage in 2017

The United Way of Bruce Grey updated its Living Wage Rate 2017. It found that in 2017, a family of three consisting of a single parent, a 15-year-old and an eight-year-old would need the sole earner to work 40 hours a week making $21.01 an hour to get by.

The rate was last updated in 2015, using 2014 data. Housing costs have significantly increased total household costs. The average rent across Ontario is now $1,115 and the United Way has found that many rental units in Bruce Grey are priced over the $1,000 threshold.

The rate has been updated by the United Way Bruce Grey at a time when the Bruce Grey Poverty Task Force and partners are engaged in discussions about Ontario’s minimum wage being raised to $15 an hour.

In May 2017, Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government announced its plans to raise the minimum wage from its current $11.40 to $14 on Jan. 1, 2018 and $15 on Jan. 1, 2019.  The change has been welcome by some economists and the Bruce Grey Poverty Task Force who say it can help the economy by increasing people’s ability to get by and be better consumers in local economies.

The Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017   (Bill 148) proposes important changes to address Ontario’s outdated labour laws and seeks to reduce precarious work.  The proposed legislation, which also includes equal pay for part-time workers, increased vacation entitlements and expanded personal emergency leave, started committee hearings on July 17th that are traveling across the province.

On July 17th, the City of Owen Sound Council approved a motion to request the government carry out an economic impact study of the increase in minimum wage within 2 years. On July 21st,  the Owen Sound and District Chamber of Commerce held a town hall meeting on the issue, held in conjunction with the Keep Ontario Working Coalition.  The Bruce Grey Poverty Task Force and its partners were at both discussions.  David McLaren shared  ON Labour Reform Facts on Need  for a $15/hr minimum wage which references 7 decades of economic impact studies of raising the minimum wage.

With the increase in a living wage, this educates people on why the United Way Bruce Grey and other organizations are in favour of the wage increase.  The FairWorkplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017 goes beyond cathcing up with the rising costs of living in Ontario and address practices of precarious work that are the new norm in the workplace.

Living Wage Rate 2017