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Has Mayor Nutter been as good for Philly as his report says?

Mayor Michael Nutter released a massive, data-laden report which paints his tenure as mayor as better than the tenures of the three previous mayors — in no small part, he said, because we should have more data to share with “citizens, business leaders, civic community, visitors and people looking to visit or invest in Philadelphia.”

After getting booed in front of a President of the United States, not to mention interviews with Philly Mag and the Inquirer that ask the very basic “why all the Nutter hatin'” question, it’s legacy time. So yesterday’s argument, backed up with data, shows how Philly has seen its fair share of good times under Nutter. It is smarter, healthier, larger in population and healthier. In some metrics, he has dominated mayors Wilson Goode, Ed Rendell and John Street. But most big cities have been making these strides the last several years. Billy Penn went through his report and highlighted five of his biggest accomplishments, while injecting a bit of what we’ll call balance. (All graphs and tables unless otherwise noted come from Nutter’s office’s report).

Population growth

Philadelphia was having a bit of a population decline for, oh, the previous 57 years (!) before Nutter took office. And now it isn’t. Philadelphia’s population has grown by 3.6 percent since 2008. Of course, pretty much every big city has been growing thanks to the millennial population outnumbering even baby boomers in size. From 2010 to 2013, Philly has grown by 27,159 people, according to Census data. That puts it 20th among the 25 biggest cities in the U.S. Twentieth place is still better than Rendell and John Street. Philly was one of only three of the top 25 biggest cities to decline in population from 1990 to 2000, and from 2000-2005, under Street, Philadelphia shed more population than any of those top 25 cities aside from Detroit.

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Job growth 

Things are better in Philadelphia than they were during the throes of the recession. But they’re still not that great. The percentage increase in jobs from 2008 to now (663,000 to 667,0000) is .6 percent. Growth, sure, but in a similar time frame (2009-2014), the U.S. has experienced a 4.27 percent increase.

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Another issue Nutter doesn’t bring up in the report: He might be adding more jobs than these other mayors, but the level of unemployment is worse. Philadelphia’s unemployment level, as of September according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, was 7.1 percent, an increase from 6.9 percent since he took office. Under Street, unemployment also increased slightly from 6 percent to 6.9 percent. Rendell fared much better than Nutter, with the unemployment rate declining from 9.3 percent to 6 percent in his tenure. Philadelphia is also poorer, with 26.3 percent of the population impoverished, compared to 24.1 percent when he took office. But obviously, Nutter had to deal with the recession.


Smarter city 

Philadelphia high school graduation rates have increased from 52 percent to 65 percent under Nutter, according to data from the school district. Also, more college and high school educated people live in Philadelphia than ever before.

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But you’ll notice that Nutter doesn’t compare himself to his predecessors here. Maybe that’s because his numbers don’t look all that different than increases under Street. According to Census data, the percentage of Philadelphians with an Associate’s Degree or higher in 2000 was 22.6 percent. It went up 4 percent in the first five years of his tenure to 26.6 percent. Nutter’s increase is just under that.

Less violent crime and murder

Violent crime and especially murder have dropped significantly, by about 17 percent and 37 percent respectively since Nutter took over. Is it actually because of Nutter’s policies or, as he points out in the report, the added stability of having just one police commissioner in his tenure (unlike Goode, Rendell or Street)? The problem here — and in other big cities where violent crime and murder rates have tumbled at a similar rate — is nobody really knows why.

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Financial stability

There’s no doubt Philadelphia’s reputation has become more positive nationally under Nutter, and its bond ratings bear that out. For the first time ever, Philadelphia has an A rating by all three bond ratings agencies, meaning Philadelphia is seen as financially stable and is itself a safe investment to an extent it never was under the previous three mayors.

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The other good news is that Philadelphians aren’t paying higher taxes under Nutter to achieve this better financial status. City wage tax rates have dropped to 3.92 percent, the lowest they’ve been since 1976.

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