Two jobs became the norm for immigrants: say experts, employees

Toronto sign (Wikimedia Commons)

By: Justine Catalan and Lanre Ogaosun

With Toronto’s high cost of living and increasing rental prices, Kenley Mercado works two jobs just to afford the basic necessities and pay for daily expenses. “I wake up at 3:30 in the morning and I lack sleep. I think no one wants that kind of life,” said Mercado. Despite juggling two jobs, Kenley struggles to make ends meet. He works from 5:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. as a front counter staff, and as a sous chef in a restaurant from 3:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. He gets a maximum of 4 hours of sleep.

Kenley Mercado, Filipino Immigrant

“Sometimes I don’t have days off. I work seven days. (Having) double job makes me depressed and it affects my mental health. I cry to sleep because I’m too exhausted from work,” said Mercado. This is the reality for many facing similar challenges in one of Canada’s most expensive cities. The inadequacy of minimum wage to keep pace with inflation and rising living costs leads immigrants to resort to multiple jobs as a means to pay for essential needs.

“One job is not enough because it is so expensive here in Canada. One paycheck is not enough to pay your rent,” Mercado said. “I think the government should increase the salary.”

Statistical data from Statistics Canada shows the significant role immigrants play in Canada’s economy. Immigrants contribute to the economy, not just by filling gaps in the labour market and paying taxes, but also by spending money on goods, housing, and transportation.

In 2020, the Canadian labour market witnessed an unprecedented surge in job losses attributed to the public health measures implemented to contain the spread of COVID-19. The rate of individuals holding multiple jobs declined by 1.3 percentage points, averaging at 4.5%; however, subsequent years saw a gradual recovery, with 2023 indicating a 1.4 percentage point increase compared to 2019.

Kenley is not alone. Jayson Ordinaria, an international student who works two jobs while studying, expresses similar concerns. “As an international student, I have to struggle a little bit when it comes to work and to balance my finances. So, in order to meet the expenses, aside from my leisure and my food transportation expenses, I had to juggle two jobs at the same time.”

Jayson Ordinaria, International Student

Jayson, 27, is studying quality engineering management at Seneca Polytechnic. He said he struggles in balancing his studies and job, leaving him with little time with for family and social engagements.

“I try to get rest as much as possible. On Fridays, I would have to choose whether I eat, bathe, or sleep,” said Jayson.

Currently, the minimum wage in Ontario is $16.55 per hour, while the living wage for Toronto is $25.06. The living wage is calculated based on the needs and expenses of a family of four with two income earners working full-time. The National Living Wage Framework, developed by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, is being used across Ontario to calculate their local living wage rate.


Craig Pickthorne, Communications Coordinator

“There’s no place in the province, we say Toronto, where working full time at minimum wage, would be able to pay your bills and make ends meet,” said Craig Pickthorne, Ontario Living Wage Network Communications Coordinator.

The Ontario Living Wage Network continues to address working poverty through their programs and advocate for a much higher minimum wage. “We certify employers. They enter into a legal agreement with us to pay at least a living wage to other employees, and they have to renew that certification every year.” As of 2023, the organization has 849 workplaces belonging to 623 certified employers where employees are paid at least a local living wage.

Kaylie Tiessen, Economist and Researcher at Unifor

Kaylie Tiessen, Economist and Researcher at Unifor, said that focusing on labour and employment standards can improve the Canadian economy and the job quality, providing stability in people’s lives. “The government is one of the biggest creators of jobs that cause these problems, and they are not paying attention to how they’re causing the problems that we have in that part of the economy,” said Tiessen. For Tiessen, a higher minimum wage and fair scheduling are two factors that can build the economy from the bottom.

“What we need to do is have business owners and governments put in place policies that make sure jobs are high quality enough that people can pay their bills, has the income that they need, in order to make ends meet and, and live a life where they feel happy and thrive is really important.”

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