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Income mapped: Long after ‘priority’ designation, pockets of poverty persist in east Scarborough

Correction (May 20, 2014): This correction is to note that Melody McClymont uses a different address than the one associated with her Scarborough home. She does not use a fake address as the story stated. We regret the error and any problems it may have caused.  

TORONTO – Melody McClymont has a strategy for filling out job applications: She fakes her address.

Living in the notoriously poor Scarborough neighbourhood of Kingston-Galloway hurts her employment chances more than the colour of her skin, she says.

“I don’t think it’s really a colour issue, I think it’s more of a bias issue,” she said. “It doesn’t affect me when I’m looking for a job at all because I just use a different address. That’s what really deters you from getting a job.”

In depth, interactive: Mapping Canada’s shifting incomes

McClymont, 28, just finished a post-secondary diploma in social work and is struggling to pay off her $30,000 student loan.

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She lives in rent-controlled public housing with her three-year-old daughter Maliah, and is looking for work after being fired from a customer service job that paid $15 an hour.

For years, the area’s been known as one riven by poverty and gang violence. Community programs have moved in aiming to change that.

But things aren’t getting better – not from a financial perspective, at least.

A city of increasing income extremes

Troves of tax-filing data obtained by Global News from Statistics Canada show a shifting income landscape in Canada’s biggest city.

A growing number of high-income residents are moving into formerly middle-class neighbourhoods in west Toronto and south Etobicoke.

Meanwhile, median incomes of the inner suburbs – from Thistletown, Downsview, Humberlea and Newtonbrook in the west to Kingston-Galloway and Malvern in the east – are falling.

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“Poverty is moving east”

John Stapleton, a Toronto-area social policy consultant, suggests falling incomes in east Toronto neighbourhoods are part of broader shifts in poverty and wealth.

“Poverty is moving east,” he said. “You can see it on the maps, where you see the concentration on the reduction of income in Scarborough and then you see the increases in the western part of the city, as well.”

University of Toronto professor of social work David Hulchanski has spent years studying what he calls an increasingly divided city – one whose middle class is hollowing out, replaced with extremes on either end of the income spectrum.

“People call themselves middle class but they’re not middle-income any longer. They’re either very high income or they’re low or very low income right now,” Hulchanski said.

“That middle has declined very sharply when you look at bar graphs, and your map shows that: There’s not much in the middle. You’re either going down a lot or going up a lot.”

Poor prospects in priority neighbourhoods

In Toronto areas designated a decade ago as “priority neighbourhoods,” the continuation of that trend is frustrating. The majority of the city’s 13 priority areas have seen incomes decline in the past 10 years; many in the past five, alone.

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“[I’m] saddened to see the extent this trend, which we’ve known as been around for a long time … is playing out even to today,” says Anne Gloger, Director of the East Scarborough Storefront. “But it is still very, very clear that the inner suburbs are in a lot of trouble.”

The East Scarborough Storefront is a community organization in McClymont’s Kingston-Galloway neighbourhood.

Its mission – or one of them – is to help residents in find work. Easier said than done.

The median income in the area has fallen significantly in the last 10 years – by double digits in areas around Highland Creek Park and near the corner of Morningside Avenue and Kingston Road.

In one census tract, the median family income has fallen from $48,745 to $45,640; in another, from $46,610 to $45,940 in the other during the same time frame.

The province is taking some steps to mitigate the paralyzing effects of poverty: In the 2013 budget, a year after increasing social assistance rates by one per cent, Ontario increased the amount of money you could have in a bank account and still receive welfare. Recipients of social assistance are also now able to earn up to $200 a month without affecting their level of assistance.

But those studying hyper-local income argue there’s more that both the provincial and municipal governments can do.

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Action on long-awaited transit projects would be a start in a largely transit-starved east end, Hulchanski said.

“If we have The Big Move through Metrolinx than you are going to see some movement in this. We’re not going to see this rapid eastification of poverty that we’ve seen since the beginning of the new millennium.”

He added that building large institutions such as hospitals and universities in eastern Toronto can have positive effects on their surrounding neighbourhoods.

“It’s not really easy to get out”

But it’s not just a lack of transit that’s hampering growth in the inner suburbs: The price of homes in Toronto elsewhere in the city and a steady decline in manufacturing jobs, along with a rise in low-paying, often part-time or temporary service jobs have helped keep some east Toronto neighbourhoods poor.

Councillor Paul Ainslie declined to comment for this article.

“If you look at this neighbourhood, predominantly the jobs that are available are in the service industry and are minimum wage jobs,” Gloger said.

“Even if there is a decent job somewhere, chances are it is two or three buses from here, chances are it is two or three hours from here in order for people to get those jobs. So I think that has been a huge barrier to people. And we haven’t done anything in the last 10 years to create jobs in the inner suburbs.”

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Even if she does get a job in her field, McClymont isn’t sure things will get better: She’ll still be stuck between bills to pay, debt to pay down, rent that rises with her income and a daughter to raise.

“So it’s not really easy to get out.”

With files from Anna Mehler Paperny

Next: What happens when Toronto’s wealth shifts westward?

Watch: Melody McClymont on why her neighbourhood makes it harder to climb out of poverty