The Toronto Community Foundation's just-released report, Toronto's Vital Signs, Report 2012, subtitled Not Too Bad, is not so good.
The annual report's 230-plus pages of need-to-know stats about inequality, housing and chronic disease show there's much to praise, but the numbers don't add up to anything like a clean bill of health.
Not Too Bad is certainly full of fascinating data, and I hesitate to come down too hard on a health checkup that highlights inequality, a Vital Signs tradition from long before the Occupy movement. But the debate Occupy sparked has increased public expectations about what can be learned from that data, and the TCF hasn't kept pace.
The report, supposed to be about our overall quality of life, misses out on many trends. If I had to use one phrase to describe my own quality of life and that of a lot of people I know, it would be "run ragged."
For those lucky enough to have jobs, there's barely enough time to sleep, relax or exercise. Most parents spend more time stuck in their car in traffic jams than with their kids, to-do lists are too long for a world that won't stop, people are plain stressed out and not happy. As in the famous movie, they're mad, but, sadly, they're going to take it some more.
I think this is an important un-vital sign to follow, because it might account for political trends that are otherwise inexplicable. I've been befuddled for some time about the fact that members of the U.S. Tea Party, Ford Nation in Toronto and the Oil Party in Canada are so damned mad, especially compared to left radicals, who are expected to be angry.
How can the über-rich Koch brothers in the U.S. or two rich brothers who grew up with all the privileges of a rich family on a leafy estate in Etobicoke or devotees of the oil industry share such a burning sense of outrage against poor people on social assistance and people in public service jobs? If we don't learn something about the quality of private life that leads to this quality of public life, we're doomed.
As critics of old-style social analysis have long argued, it's past time we stopped studying the poor and started studying the rich. First of all, as shown by The Spirit Level, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett's powerful study of inequality, the rich actually suffer almost as much from chronic diseases related to inequality as do the poor.
That's worth worrying about partly because empathy is for everyone, and partly because the bad temper of the well-to-do keeps them from acknowledging such all-important findings from the Vital Signs report as this: the cost of bringing every Canadian above the poverty line would be $12.3 billion a year, but the public savings from eliminating the consequences of poverty would add up to $24.4 billion annually.
At a conference on community health last weekend, I was on a panel with Toronto's former associate medical officer of health, Trevor Hancock, who said, "Poverty is so damned expensive, we can't afford it any more."
One would think the return on investment would make the most conservative investor line up behind anti-poverty measures, but the worked-up rich are too fighting mad to see anything but red.
No mere fact affects their anger. A mayor elected to deal with gravy finds out that only 1 per cent of the city's budget is discretionary, but Fighting Mad Nation won't give up its resentment. And this constituency is cheap with taxes for public expenditures, and touts charities as the solution to all social ills.
But while most charities face severe difficulties staying afloat, and half rely on unpaid volunteers, the percentage of people who donate to them fell from 28 per cent to 24.6 per cent between 1999 and 2010, the report says. A lot of seemingly comfortable people feel no desire to show thanks or give back, and just want the rest of the world to get out of their face.
That decline in generosity, the document demonstrates, is not likely caused by inability to pay. Immigrants, most of whom make less money, donate larger percentages of their income than people born here. So quality of empathy can't be too closely related to quantity of money.
The next report on devitalizing forces should put ungrateful people under the microscope and find out what provokes such blind anger.
Beyond this, Vital Signs 2013 should consider that the city is more than just a census area. The municipality itself is treated unequally by senior governments, and that's one cause of inequality here. How about some info on how many tax dollars Toronto pays out that never come back? Only 8 cents on a typical person's total tax bill goes to city government, so where does the other 92 cents go?
Given that the income gap in Toronto is greater than that in any other city in Canada, according to the Vital Signs stats, we should by rights get more than our numerical share of provincial and federal equalization payments. T.O.'s vital signs are suffering because we're underrepresented in Ottawa and Queen's Park.
Want to understand the problems of the poor? Understand the forces that impoverish them; find and name the people responsible.
At some point, a doctor checking vital signs has to say what's causing the problem before writing a prescription. In its second decade of taking Toronto's pulse, the report owes this city a diagnosis.
From Toronto's Vital Signs 2012 Report
1,000 Number of green orgs and business in the Toronto area, generating 20,000 jobs
88% Increase in one year in buildings that met the LEED Gold standard
70% Toronto schools that are now certified as EcoSchools
189 Number of high-rises under construction in one year
$1.13 billion 2011 earnings from rebounding film, TV and commercial shoots, plus digital media
19 million Number of visitors to T.O. libraries, the largest neighbourhood-based system in the world
20% Increase in a decade in the number of Toronto-area residents with post-secondary credentials
19.8% Youth unemployed in the T.O. area, up from 17% in 2011
60% Neighbourhoods that will be low- or very-low-income by 2025
42% Increase in those defined as working poor in the Toronto area between 2000 and 2005
70% Food bank visitors who pay market-value rent
67% Food bank users on inadequate social assistance programs
45% Increase in a decade in the number of households headed by someone with a disability