Coming soon! Our Vital Signs 2018 report launches May 30!

In the meantime, register for our launch event on May 31 that will feature a panel discussion with four local experts who will talk about the latest data from the report.  From our city’s health and the environment to diversity and our neighbourhoods, we’ll get to the why behind the what. The event is free but seating is limited so please register here.

*NEW 2017* Click here to read Hamilton’s Millennials and Community Belonging, a new snapshot report that looks at millennials’ sense of belonging in Hamilton.

A message from Hamilton Community Foundation

Hamilton Community Foundation’s mission is to drive positive change by connecting people, ideas and resources. Building and sharing knowledge about our city is at the heart of our mission. It’s a resource we offer as we work with our community towards the vision of a vibrant, inclusive Hamilton. Hamilton’s Vital Signs is one aspect of informing of our own work as a grantmaker and catalyst for community change.

Hamilton is experiencing a new prosperity and optimism.  This report reaffirms that, with proof of improved unemployment rates and a booming real estate market. It also presents the evidence that not everyone is yet sharing in Hamilton’s economic revitalization.  Many citizens still struggle to secure basics such as safe, affordable housing, secure jobs and an income above the poverty line.

We offer this report, prepared by the Social Planning and Research Council, as a deeper look at a city brimming with promise, as food for thought and as inspiration to act knowing that our city is better for everyone, when everyone can share in its prosperity.  As the late Mayor of Boston Thomas M. Menino said “A city works best when it works for all residents. Let us make sure the recovery is shared widely. We won’t develop all of the solutions here, but we can start here.”

Correction to the first printing of 2015 Hamilton Vital Signs report

This updated edition brings a correction to the data and text for chart 8 on pages 13 and 14. The percentage of Hamilton households receiving Ontario Works in 2013 has been corrected to 5.9% (from 5.4%). The chart has also been updated to include recently released 2014 data from the Ontario Municipal Benchmarking Institute, including a re-stating of the median rate for the years 2012 and 2013. Finally, the text has been modified to reflect these changes to the data.

Hamilton’s Economic Renaissance:
A prosperity unevenly shared

Headlines around Hamilton’s economy seem to be regularly positive:  housing starts are strong, unemployment rates are low, bankruptcy rates are in decline, commercial development continues to grow[1] and Hamilton has the most diversified economy in Canada[2]. There is no doubt that a number of indicators often selected and reported do indeed suggest some conditions are improving and that the economic successes being generated in the city of Hamilton that bode well for the apparent improving prosperity in the community, with some calling it a ‘renaissance’.[3]

However, these indicators tell only part of the story.  There are other measures of community wellbeing and stress that suggest many residents are not yet sharing in the benefits of Hamilton’s increasing prosperity.

Hamilton is experiencing the same major economic forces affecting all communities in Southern Ontario. The knock down effects of major downsizing in the manufacturing sector over the last two decades continues to ripple into communities across Ontario. The subsequent growth in more temporary, insecure and low- paid jobs, especially in the service sector is a shift that does not seem to have reached its peak yet.

This study takes a closer look at these forces as well as the trends being reported, and broadens the scope of indicators in order to better understand the extent to which there may be contrasting views and experience of prosperity in Hamilton with particular attention to who’s missing out.

This report will focus on a few important comparators where possible: Hamilton’s historical trends along with selected other communities for geographic comparisons. Although quite different in significant ways, the Census Metropolitan Areas of Toronto, Hamilton and Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge are the three largest in Southern Ontario and are often in a competitive relationship with each other for residents, employment and commercial development. For this reason the city of Toronto and region of Waterloo (the municipal/regional boundaries where possible often at the CMA level, or using), have been chosen as the primary geographic comparisons included in this report, along with the average for Ontario.


Major Economic Indicators

What’s the evidence that all of Hamilton’s citizens are sharing the prosperity of Hamilton’s renaissance?

Both employment and unemployment rates have improved in Hamilton and are better than the provincial average, but with growing numbers of young adults moving to Hamilton, youth unemployment has remained at recession levels of 15%.  While the number of people on social assistance has fallen more quickly than any city in Ontario since the recession, Hamilton still remains above the provincial average.  Poverty rates, similarly, have shown no improvement since 2001. Read more

Rental housing

How has Hamilton’s renaissance affected rents?

With its historically more affordable housing costs, Hamilton’s renaissance is exerting substantial pressure on its rental housing market.  In 2015, average rents rose by 4.1% in one year, the highest of any major city in Ontario, and over the past eight years rents have risen by 22%.  Vacancy rates have similarly dropped from a “renter’s market” 4.5% in April 2014 to an unhealthy level of 1.8%.  The rapid decline in the vacancy rate is foreshadowing a looming housing crisis for Hamilton. Read more

Geography of jobs in Hamilton

Where are Hamilton’s jobs?

Consistent with where some of the biggest effects of Hamilton’s renaissance are being felt, the largest number of jobs are in lower Hamilton, the Mountain, and Hamilton’s waterfront.   This is less true for Hamilton’s youth:  the majority of jobs for youth tend to be offered in Hamilton’s malls and retail areas – which are generally suburban – creating challenges for youth living in central and east Hamilton.  Read more

Insecure employment

What are conditions like for Hamilton workers?

Hamilton has the highest rate across the GTHA of workers in insecure employment – which means less access to benefits and pensions, and increased requirements for flexibility in scheduling.  Insecure employment for Hamilton’s parents also negatively affects their children’s school and extra-curricular experience.  Read more

Barriers to employment

What makes it so hard to find a job, any job, even an insecure job?

Hamilton’s economic renaissance is not addressing the larger barriers that many people face when seeking employment. A lack of affordable high quality child care spaces, deep poverty, and discrimination in the labour market all continue to create very unbalanced outcomes for many of Hamilton’s citizens.  Read more

Policy solutions

What does the evidence say are the best ways forward to solve these challenges?

One of the most effective ways to address the inequities present in Hamilton’s growth is to implement innovative policies that have been successful in other communities.  Some of the forward thinking and new relationships built by Hamilton’s renaissance present a unique opportunity to build win-win solutions that will foster a more equitable sharing of Hamilton’s prosperity. Together, leaders from all sectors, informed by the voices of those struggling without access to the benefits of Hamilton’s economic growth, can work to implement policies that will lead to more inclusive growth.  Read more

Download the full report here

Data note about the National Household Survey

This report includes data from Statistics Canada’s National Household Survey (NHS). The NHS is a voluntary survey and was introduced in 2011 as a replacement for the mandatory long-form Census. The NHS has produced lower quality data than available previously through the Census, especially at the community level and for smaller population groups. The SPRC follows the recommendation of the Social Planning Network of Ontario and only uses NHS data when higher quality data is not available. [4]

Statistics Canada has said their evaluations of NHS data “support the general reliability of the data at the national, provincial and territorial levels” but they have not extended this confidence to using NHS data at the community level. They have noted that the “risk of error in NHS estimates increases for lower levels of geography and smaller population.” NHS data in this report is not compared to previous Census data due to changes in methodology between the two data sources. Statistics Canada’s indicator of data quality for the NHS is the “global non-response rate”, which combines how many households refused to participate in the NHS as well as households who only answered some of the NHS questions. The global non-response rate was 29.0% for the City of Hamilton compared to an average of 26.1% across Canada. Data from the NHS in this report should be interpreted with caution.

[1] City of Hamilton. (2014). Investment Update and City of Hamilton (2013). Community Report:

[2] Conference Board of Canada data cited in City of Hamilton. (2013). Integrating tools for successful economic development: The Hamilton model.

[3] MacLeod, M. (2015 March 26). Hamilton’s renaissance is no illusion: It’s happening and it’s real, senior city planner tells group. Hamilton Spectator:

[4] Available at:

Vital Signs is a community check-up conducted by community foundations across Canada that measures the vitality of our communities and identifies significant trends in a range of areas critical to quality of life. Vital Signs is co-ordinated nationally by Community Foundations of Canada.