The McMaster University-United Way Toronto study finds that four in 10 workers are trapped in or partly feeling the effects of so-called precarious employment, while the rest hold on to better permanent jobs.
And it says the rate of precarious labourers in jobs such as temporary or contract work has jumped by almost 50 per cent in the last two decades.
The research says such workers tend to have fluctuating weekly incomes, lack funds to cover unexpected costs and see their work schedules change with little notice.
It finds that precarious work doesn't only just impact lower income earners, but middle class households as well.
The findings say the insecurity can be a factor in couples putting off having children and causes stress that interferes with personal and family life — and is even tied to having fewer close friends and less community engagement.
The report floats several potential steps to get precarious workers into stable jobs, including raising the minimum wage, stiffer enforcement of workers' rights, stronger training programs and more affordable child care and housing.
Getting paid in cash, having weeks without work, juggling multiple jobs and lower unionization rates are all symptoms of precarious employment, the report states.
It's equally likely for those in knowledge, service and manufacturing jobs to experience precarious work, while people earning pay as manufacturers were the least likely to be considered "securely" employed, the research found.
The report says precariously employed workers make nearly half as much as those with secure jobs, while their household incomes fall one-third lower.
Two in 10 workers are solidly in the precarious category, while another 20 per cent share some of the conditions such as fluctuating hours and a belief they likely won't have the same job one year from now.
Recent immigrants are more likely to be precariously employed than their Canada-born counterparts, the report adds.
McMaster labour studies Prof. Wayne Lewchuk pointed to changes to working standards made by governments and how they have helped increase the amount of precarious work.
"Labour markets today are not what they were in the 1960s and 1970s when many of the regulations that influence employment conditions were adopted," Lewchuk said in a release.
Susan McIsaac, president of United Way Toronto, said in a release that the findings show problems linked to unstable and poorly compensated work is widespread.
"Precarious employment affects us all. It threatens our communities and undermines the prosperity of our cities," she said.
The research drew on data from Statistics Canada, a telephone survey of more than 4,000 people and interviews with a small number of the precariously employed.
An expert panel will discuss the findings at a symposium Monday in Toronto.
The report follows poverty research work done in 2007 for United Way Toronto which warned precarious employment was fuelling a string of social problems faced by the city.
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