Wednesday, April 29, 2015


The longer I live in Toronto, the more I feel a general sense of irritation: things could be so much better! And yet, things continue to not be so much better. When I first arrived in the city, I was this starry-eyed little small-town girl. Toronto represented the future. It was where the action was, it was where the culture came from (or, if not where the culture came from, where the culture at least didn't have to be acquired through an purchase). There was live music, first-run movies, street festivals! It was exciting.

But for me, financially speaking, Toronto has often been a scary place. Employment has mostly been short-term, and I'm usually paid a rate that just barely scrapes the underside of the living wage for the city. Part of this is my own fault, since I've made a point of working for organizations whose mission and purpose I believe in; these places are often small non-profits, operating over capacity, and with nothing to invest in the little things like HR, personnel policies or training. I've developed my skills and moved up in the world, which has been great; I have also totally failed to have an RRSP, a pension, or a savings account.

I'm kind of scared.

Here's my reality: I can't afford afford a house in this city. We will be at the mercy of landlords for probably our entire lives. The ramifications of these are varied: we won't be able to make repairs to major structural issues, nor will we be able to hang wallpaper. Our landlords often take weeks to reply to emails, if they ever get back to us; in the meantime, we have dribbling water pressure or no hot water at all. We don't get to choose the (sometimes scary) people who come into our home to do repairs. We don't get to negotiate with the landlords over rent increases. We're on the waitlist for a co-op unit, but that could take years.

I ride a bike because transit is too expensive for me to justify when I'm in rude health. This sometimes leads to lousy decisions, like biking home after a few beers. We're constantly riding over rough, poorly maintained streets, and I'm often afraid I'm going to taco my wheel on a gnarly pothole. Toronto isn't a bike-friendly city, and the four years we spent under Ford underlined this even more. Bike lanes were removed, and car-vs-bike rhetoric grew more heated and personal. I like riding my bike in Toronto, but it doesn't always feel like the city wants me out there.

A few years ago, I worked at the Island Yacht Club, which is one of those places that charges a few thousand dollars for membership and pays its dining room wait staff minimum wage. I stopped on my way to work one day, tired and rained-on and broke—and I didn't realize how broke I really was until I tried to buy a bottle of Coke Zero from a drugstore. A buck eighty-eight, and my debit was having none of it. I sat down on the curb and cried, and called my friend Liz; she, superheroine of my life, biked down Spadina with a can of Coke Zero and delivered it to me.

I felt disgusting that day. I felt so poor and miserable that I could barely see.

I'm a Millennial. Allegedly, we're one of the most self-centered and annoying generations to deal with, according the previous record holders, the Boomers. The primary narrative is that we're a bunch of over-teched dream-followers who can't hold a job and who want a medal for showing up to work every day. But here's my life: my last job paid thirty-four thousand dollars a year. I owe nearly half that in student debt. I live above a bar. I went to university because I was told hundreds of times that employers wouldn't even look at me if I didn't have a degree. And now that I'm in the workplace, my bosses are white dudes in their late sixties. Twenty years ago, they would have retired by now, but they're hanging on for dear life.

When my dad was my age, he owned a house. He had a kid. He was a fully-formed human. I'm only a few years removed from a buck-and-change in my bank account.

I might be freaking out because M and I are starting to take a look at what the next ten years will hold for us. Houses? Kids? International travel? If we want to have a dinner out, how do we pay for that? If I want to add to my ever-increasing number of black tank tops, will that always require a trip to the Sally Anne? Questions! My savings account has seventy-seven dollars in it. My sister works in oil and gas, and she now makes triple what I do. But, y'know: she works in oil and gas. I'm not mad at her, but I can't follow her path, either. All those "how to live frugally" articles that pop up online? I know that shit like the back of my hand. I already live like that. There aren't a lot of corners for me to cut.

I'm not bitter. I just feel kind of freaked out. I'm worried that I screwed up somewhere a few years ago, and I'm going to spend the rest of my life making less and less money because of it. There are factors outside my control—I graduated in a recession, I'm a woman, I work in the arts and in non-profits—which I know mean a reduction in income. I'm not looking for pity. But I am starting to question whether or not I'm ever going to hit that living wage—$18.52 an hour in Toronto, an amount I haven't made since I waited tables when I was eighteen years old—and what the hell I can do about it.

Image via Abandonedography