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This is How Much it Costs for a Family of Four to ‘Thrive’ in the GTA

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Let’s face it: few people living in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) would report low living costs as part of the region’s draw. 

But new research highlights exactly how much a household needs to earn in order to thrive (as opposed to just survive) in the GTA — and it’s a figure that’s out of reach for many. 

The Toronto-based Wellesley Institute estimates a household income of $103,032 to $136,426 after tax* to thrive in the GTA — a figure obtained as the result of insight from government researchers, experts, and academics on what constitutes a well-rounded lifestyle. 

Half of all GTA families fall below this figure. 

Researchers presented 10 categories of health and wellbeing expenses to real families in the GTA: food and nutrition, shelter, transportation, physical activity, health care, personal care and hygiene, social participation, education and professional development, childcare, and savings and debt. 

They found that the most expensive costs for GTA families were (in order) shelter, savings and debt, and childcare. Collectively, these three components comprise over half of the thriving income costs for families. 

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“To thrive with our current social programs and safety net, one or both parents would need to earn substantially more than the minimum wage ($14.25 per hour) with full-time hours (i.e., 37.5 hours per week),” reads the report. “A parent who works in a full-time, minimum wage job would earn approximately $27,788 per year before-tax. Two parents working minimum wage jobs would earn just $55,575 per year before tax.”

Researchers acknowledge that families may receive considerable support from the government through things like the Canada Child Benefit, but say they would still likely fall short of the estimated income needed for a family of four to thrive. 

“Even with a living wage of $22 per hour ($85,800 per year), a family would still likely fall short of a thriving income and may not be able meet all their health needs,” reads the report. 

Researchers suggest increases in minimum wage and an expansion of government-provided direct income supports to help more families reach a thriving income.

“But thriving could also be achieved through enhanced investments by multiple actors — all levels of government, employers, institutions, and communities — in resources, services, and benefits that improve the health and well-being of families while reducing family expenses,” reads the report. 

“For example, ensuring affordable, quality housing and childcare would reduce two of the greatest expenses for families. If all employers provided employees with comprehensive health benefits and professional development opportunities, parents would no longer have to pay for these expenses out of pocket.”

Researchers also recommend reducing or eliminating tuition costs, as well as providing lower-income students with bursaries to reduce the amount parents need to save for their children’s education. On the other end of the spectrum, researchers say enhancements to security programs would reduce the need to self-fund retirement. 

On the recreation front, researchers recommend the expansion of affordable and accessible amenities — parks, libraries, and community centres — on the part of municipal governments to decrease family spending. 

*The pre-tax amount of annual income necessary to earn this much household income is between $155,000 and $220,000.

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