Can Young People Afford to Live in Canadian Cities?








See the Real Affordability Index in a brand new way.

Youthful Cities is excited to release a new “scrollytelling” experience for the Real Affordability Index 2022. Go on the journey so many young people face searching financial security that is often just out of reach.

A mockup on a phone of the RAI scrollytelling webpage.

Young people live in a monthly deficit position in Canadian cities making urban centers unaffordable to the country’s future generations. On average young people are losing $750 per month by living in cities across the country. To break even young people would need to isolate themselves- no entertainment, no transportation, and no dining out. Is this the position we want young people to be in? This young generation includes ages 15-29. They are often thought of in binaries. Young people are either considered change makers who are the only hope for solving the climate crisis, or they are the tik-tok obsessed generation who overspends on oat milk lattes and avocado toast. With 27 cities, 54 measures, and 2414 data points examined in the Real Affordability Index, we can conclude that this generation is currently still working to afford the toast, let alone the avocado. 

The problem with this in our eyes is evident. Young people should have equitable access to educational opportunities and upskilling programs, a higher minimum wage, and affordable options for housing, but they don’t. Affordability for young people should also take into account more than the bare minimum necessary to survive but what it would take to thrive. That’s why we made the Real Affordability Index, to be able to really look at what it costs to live work, and play in Canadian cities. 

Data for the index was collected and examined through measures to represent the diversity of young people living in our cities. Lenses that the data is examined include gender, career, full-time work/ part-time work, age cohort, and variations in wage. In partnership with RBC Future Launch, the Real Affordability Index shows that the lack of affordability in Canadian Cities for young people will have ripple effects across the country.

Infographic showing monthly deficits by city. Lethbridge has the lowest deficit at -$34.92 per month. The average is $-750 per month.
Income for young people - cost for young people = surplus/deficit per month

“Young peoples’ inability to afford to live in urban areas can have many compounding negative effects including increased mental health concerns as they face fears of missing out on life ahead and attaining their goals and ambitions,” says Mark Beckles, Vice-President, Social Innovation and Impact, RBC.

The mental health effects of the pandemic on young people are widespread. Social isolation left young people feeling alone in a time when meeting new people and having core experiences is meant to shape who you are and provide insight into what you want to do with your life. The findings that point to a lack of affordability suggest that the trend of missing out will only continue for young people as they can’t afford the cost of engaging in the type of activities that previous generations of youth had access to. 

“Tamarack has had the opportunity to work closely with Youthful Cities via Communities Building Youth Futures. CBYF is a network of 20 youth-led collaboratives committed to re-imagining how we support young people to thrive. The Real Affordability Index is a critical tool for youth, youth serving organizations, policymakers, and all of us to understand the opportunities to create conditions for youth success,” said Danya Pastuszek, Tamarack’s Co-CEO and Director of Vibrant Communities. “The lack of affordability in Canadian cities for youth underlines the importance of creating system-wide solutions to improving outcomes for young people. I love the Real Affordability Index as a powerful example of a new method of data collection and use – one that puts youth at the center of that collection and sensemaking.”

“Why is it so expensive to just exist?” is a question at the top of the minds of young people living in Canadian cities. With this question bringing more and more financial anxiety to everyday life, it is possible that young Canadians may move out of city centers or Canada altogether causing a potential drain on talent, decreasing the vibrancy of the city, limiting young people’s options and therefore decreasing sense of belonging. 

Canada is stunting the growth of the next generation which in turn will stunt Canada’s growth. 

What can we do as a nation to better support the future generation in light of this crisis right now?

The findings from the index point to key trends that are affecting affordability for young people in Canadian cities.

The Headlines

  • Salaries and wages are not keeping pace with the costs in cities
  • Even young people who work full-time aren’t guaranteed to afford the city they live in
  • Many youth are engaged in essential work in the service sector and continue to make low wages
  • After decades of effort to create gender equity, young men continue to earn more than young women in each examined Canadian city
  • In all cities, the minimum wage is not a liveable wage – gaps range from $2 to $10
  • Regionally, the east region is the least affordable overall primarily due to East Coast salary discount, while Alberta and Quebec show more opportunity for saving money
  • Lethbridge is the most affordable city but also has one of the largest gender gaps in affordability
  • Full-time jobs are young people’s ticket to affordability but it’s not a guarantee – 2/3 of the cities are still unaffordable even when young people are working full-time


Income & Cost of Living

  • Young people need affordable rates for the costs that matter most to them, such as housing and education, yet the range for renting a single bedroom apartment in Lethbridge is well below $1000, and averages nearly $2000 in Toronto. 
  • Differences in cost of living has a range of 46% between Yellowknife and Quebec City. 
  • Young people in all cities currently don’t have an income that will allow them to make a surplus monthly to afford to live in metropolitan areas and contribute to communities.
  • Income across examined cities has a disparity of 30% between the highest income, Yellowknife, and lowest, Halifax.

Income by Age

  • The age group between 25 and 29 shows some surplus in monthly earnings which comes at a pivotal time.
  • In this time period young people may be considering buying a home or starting a family yet the numbers still don’t indicate comfortability financially to be able to accomplish this

Full-time and Part Time Work

  • The select cities that have a surplus for full-time work don’t represent high enough numbers to meet the societal expectation for young people to save to buy a home in the city that they live in. 
  • Youth engaged in part-time work in every city make at least a deficit of -$1300, with many cities nearly doubling this amount.


  • In Yellowknife and Lethbridge, men make roughly 20% more than women. 
  • Even when men experience an affordability deficit, women experience a greater deficit. 
  • The difference in income between men and women contributes to the disparity in affordability dependent on gender.
  • Cost of living also contributes to the disparity, as women continue to pay more for products than men do (hello pink tax). 

Occupation Type

  • Young people should be ensured the dignity of working in essential positions while making enough to afford to live in their chosen cities. 
  • Equal access to opportunities to upskill and train, combined with an increased minimum wage could contribute to retaining critical youth talent in Canadian cities. 
  • The cities that have higher incomes have a lower percentage of youth working in the sales sector and a higher amount working in trades. 

Minimum and livable wage

  • Young people in minimum wage jobs can’t reach a surplus of affordability whether they are engaged in full or part-time work
  • Minimum wage across the country does not represent a liveable wage


“There are a lot of things that take into account when you think about the cost of living,” says a young Toronto-based Pivot member. “You have to think about rent, paying for food, paying for public transport, or if you have a car, paying for that. Insurance rates are high. Public transport costs increase every year. The cost of living increases every year, and then we just do not increase proportionately.” The Real Affordability Index takes into account what it really costs for young people to live in cities across Canada and paints a picture of what happens when income does not increase proportionally with cost of living. The unaffordability for young people to survive and thrive in Canadian cities will have ripple effects across the country. We have to act now to systemically support young people. They are the future of our cities.


What can we do?

Targets to get closer to affordability for youth in the next 3 years given 6.7% inflation:

  • Achieve 66% full-time jobs for 15-24 year olds (currently 49% vs 86% for over 25 year olds)
  • Boost minimum wage by $5 in every province and territory.
  • Reduce costs: Education by 15%; public transit by 25%; rental housing by 20%

Web App

To learn more about what affordability means for you, you can check out our customizable web app. The web app will give you insight into how your city ranks amongst others in regard to affordability to give you a better understanding of city wide affordability averages for your particular circumstances.


Explore and download the raw dataset on Youthful Cities’ newly relaunched open data portal, THE GRID.

What would you say to those in power about affordability for young Canadians?

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    The Real Affordability Index (RAI) provides insight into how much money Canadian youth can make in a month in 27 Canadian cities when accounting for monthly expenses and income. For the Youthful Cities team to conduct this task, there were two key factors that went into answering that question – cost and income. Once we have both cost and income calculated, we can then create an overall ranking across 27 cities that illustrates which city can provide the best conditions for youth to live, work and play affordably.

    Average income by city minus cost of a youth basket of goods/services by city multiplied by percent of youth who purchase each item multiplied by quantity purchased of each item equals surplus/deficit per month in each city.
    Figure 1 - Building Blocks for the Real Affordability Index

    By using data from Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey (LFS) we were able to calculate average incomes for those aged 15-29, analyze those incomes by Census Metropolitan Areas and apply an average provincial and federal income tax rate to provide an estimate of how much income youth earn within a month. As Statistics Canada provides an hourly wage figure in the LFS, we took the average amount of work hours youth reported and used those numbers to compare Full-Time and Part-Time incomes throughout this report.

    •         Overall hours, including youth who work full-time and part-time – 31.95 hours per week
    •         Full-Time hours – 39.87 hours per week
    •         Part-Time hours – 16.85 hours per week
    •         The only graphs that do not work with LFS hours per week include Livable Wage and the Age Income comparison graphs, which use standardized 37.5 hours per week.

    ·         Additional Assumptions: each month has 4.35 work weeks

    Census Metropolitan Area income data was used where available from Stats Canada for the index. We believe it gives the most accurate portrayal of income for the city. Where it was not available, provincial income was used. CMA income are higher overall than Provincial income. We are unsure if that is due to the population size of CMA or lower incomes in rural areas of a province. In some cases cities in a province represent a significant portion of the provincial population (eg Halifax is 42% of Nova Scotia population). It is possible incomes in cities using provincial incomes are slightly lower, but until data is available it is not conclusive.


    Cities using CMA data:
    1. Quebec City
    2. Montreal
    3. Ottawa/ Gatineau
    4. Toronto
    5. Hamilton
    6. Winnipeg
    7. Calgary
    8. Edmonton
    9. City of Vancouver

    Cities using Provincial data:

    1. Brampton
    2. Charlottetown
    3. Fredericton
    4. Halifax
    5. Kelowna
    6. Kitchener-Waterloo
    7. Laval
    8. Lethbridge
    9. London
    10. Mississauga
    11. Moncton
    12. Oshawa
    13. Regina
    14. Saskatoon
    15. St. John’s
    16. Sudbury
    17. City of Victoria
    18. Yellowknife

    On the cost side of the calculation we first needed to outline which cost items we wanted and were able to measure. Using the Consumer Price Index as a reference guide, we opted to include some of the costs associated with any individual, but also to include other cost factors that are important to young people (e.g. events, subscription services, tech purchases etc.). Figure 2 describes some of the general categories and measurements we used. For a full in-depth list of all the measurements collected, please see the codebook for the RAI linked here: RAI Codebook.

    With the list in mind, the next step is to determine how often youth purchase each item on a monthly basis. To calculate this, we utilized survey responses to inform the average quantity youth purchased of all relevant items.

    When we put all this information together, we’re able to calculate an average surplus/deficit monthly dollar amount by city.

    Cost categories for a youth basket of goods and services: Live includes food, shelter, hygiene, personal care, makeup, and clothes. Move includes car insurance, rideshares, and public transit. Work includes education, tech purchases, phone plan, and internet. Play includes gym, shows, subscriptions, events, and recreational substances.
    Figure 2 - Cost Categories / Youth Basket of Goods and Services
    For percent of youth who purchase each item, Quantity percentage of each indicator obtained through surveying youth (e.g Pivot 2020 survey N=3045, RAI Youth Survey N=204). For quantity purchased of each item, Quantity is defined as the average quantity purchased of each item by young people, scaled to a monthly figure.
    Figure 3 - Cost Calculations