Toronto Star: ‘I work hard and I still can’t make enough’: Toronto families struggling to survive on low-wage jobs

Posted April 10, 2015

A Toronto couple supporting two children both need to work full-time at $18.52 an hour each to make ends meet — a far cry from reality for too many struggling families, a report released Friday finds.

Rassel Mohammad

Supports his family on a job which pays $15/hour

The heap of bricks and rubble that sits on a pedestrian path below Rassel Mohammad’s fourth-floor apartment is the latest reminder of the Scarborough father’s struggles to pull his young family out of poverty.
 
Last Saturday, four storeys of brick facing above the unit fell from the side of the problem-plagued Eglinton Ave. E. public housing building.
 
This is after two winters of little or no heat due to a faulty boiler and ongoing issues with burst pipes, ruined flooring, a broken stove and no phone service in his three-bedroom apartment, Mohammad says.
 
“We would really like to move, but on my wages, it’s just not possible.”
 
Mohammad, 36, struggles to support his pregnant wife, their 3-year-old daughter and his 60-year-old mother on his wages as a shipper/receiver in a Don Mills factory. He earns $15.61 an hour — about $32,000 a year — in his permanent, full-time job, which he’s had for the past 13 years.
 
A new report on Toronto’s living wage, released Friday, shows that a Toronto couple supporting two children both need to work full-time and earn at least $18.52 an hour each, or about $72,000 a year combined, to maintain a modest lifestyle in the city.
 
“To raise kids is very expensive with the clothing, the diapers and the food. It’s very, very hard in Toronto,” says Mohammad, a member of ACORN, a national group of low- and moderate-income residents that supports the living wage concept.
 
Mohammad, whose family moved to Canada from Bangladesh when he was 12, began supporting his mother and three younger brothers when he graduated from high school and his father died suddenly.
 
“We lived on social assistance. But when my father died, I took my family off social assistance by working,” he says.
 
He has been working ever since. It doesn’t make sense for his wife to work, Mohammad says, because her wages wouldn’t cover the cost of child care, and his mother is too frail to look after small children.
 
He is grateful for his subsidized rent of $830 a month, but every pay raise means a rent hike in his public housing building, so it’s hard to get ahead.
 
“Everything goes up — food, rent, TTC fares — everything except the pay,” he says.
 
“If I had more money, I would buy a car and save money to buy a house or a condo. Then we could live in a better place and have a better life.”
 
Nicole Mason
 
A 45-year-old single mother of two
 
Nicole Mason has worked in the service sector for most of her life. The 45-year-old mother of two has sold clothes and wine as a retail clerk, cared for the sick and elderly as a personal support worker and co-owned a restaurant.
 
But when her 13-year marriage collapsed five years ago, Mason and her two daughters, then 12 and 9, were forced to start from scratch. It has been a struggle ever since.
 
Her eldest daughter is still upset that she had to give up competitive dancing at a cost of $10,000 a year, Mason says wistfully. Now 17, that daughter just moved out of their Flemingdon Park apartment to live with her father in the Niagara Region.
 
And who can blame her, Mason says.
 
Although she has a permanent, full-time job in a wine store, Mason’s $14-an-hour wage can’t pay for the brand-name clothes teenagers covet. Internet service and cable TV aren’t in the budget, either.
 
Her daughter has to use computers at the local library or at a friend’s house when she has homework, she says.
 
“It really sucks for my 14-year-old because when I am working nights she is stuck at home watching reruns of Desperate Housewives on old DVDs.”
 
But Mason is determined to make a better life. She is hoping her current management training job in Woodbridge will lead to a supervisory position within the chain of wine stores and a possible pay increase of as much as $4 an hour. If she can work her way up to store manager, she figures she could be earning as much as $40,000 and transfer to a Toronto outlet closer to home.
 
Mason admits she struggles to justify $800 in monthly car expenses, including gas and insurance payments. But it means she doesn’t have to spend four hours a day on buses and pay both TTC and York public transit fares.
 
Until she is promoted, however, her car and $975 monthly rent will continue to eat up most of her earnings.
 
If it wasn’t for about $300 in monthly child support from her ex-husband and federal child benefit payments of about $350 a month, she wouldn’t have money for food and other necessities.
 
A Toronto living wage of $18.52 an hour would make a huge difference in her life, Mason says.
 
“I work hard and I still can’t make enough, so I think something has to be done.”
 
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Article by Laurie Monsebraaten for the Toronto Star