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The State of the City, live: Education, optimism and why the population boom is more than millennials

Philadelphians are feeling more optimistic about the city they live in — but we’re still not sure exactly why.

The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Larry Eichel sat down Tuesday night with Billy Penn for a public conversation at Pipeline Philly about the organization’s latest report, “The State of the City,” which reported that two-thirds of respondents said they believe Philadelphia will be a better place in five years than it is now. But it also tackled some of the city’s many problems, between public safety, education, jobs and poverty.

And while Pew’s not in the business of necessarily prescribing policy solutions to solve the city’s problems, Eichel was able to help us digest the information that can found in the report — all the way from elementary education to immigration. (For a TL;DR version of the report itself, click here.)

Here are five things we learned:

1. We’re not talking enough about immigration.

Are you sick of the word “millennial” yet? As you may know, we at Billy Penn embrace the younger crowd that’s moving into the city of Philadelphia in droves for jobs and opportunities — and everyone is constantly talking about it. But the population boom is due to much more than young professionals, and Eichel suggested looking beyond Center City to discover the city’s massive new cohort of immigrants from around the globe.

The Northeast — which is often thought of as the older, white neighborhoods — is more diverse than ever, Eichel said, especially in neighborhoods like Mayfair and Oxford Circle.

2. The leading cause of death among young people is alarming.

Typically, the leading cause of death among people aged 10 to 29 is car accidents. In Philadelphia, it’s homicide. And while the city’s homicide and violent crime rates have been on a downward trajectory consistent with the rest of the country, the impact violence is having on the young people in our city’s neighborhoods is vast, especially among young black males.

According to Eichel, homicides in the city dropped substantially in 2013 to the lowest it had been in half a century, and held that level in 2014 — up just one — to 248 on the year. Major crimes and violent crimes have been trending gradually downward over time.

3. The amount of residents with degrees is up, but education for kids still lags.

The percentage of college graduates living in Philadelphia has risen to more than a quarter of the population, but that number is still lower than the national average which is nearly 30 percent degree attainment.

Meanwhile, high school graduation rates among the city’s public schools are still quite low by the standards of other cities, but are slowly edging higher over the years.

Eichel noted that Pew asked survey-takers which issue was most important to them in Philadelphia, and it wasn’t jobs or economics or public safety. It was education.

“Our pollster thought that was pretty remarkable,” Eichel said, “because obviously a lot of people don’t have kids or a stake in the public school system. It’s quite interesting, and it’s not been that way in the past.”

4. The city is building all the things! But no one wants to own a home.

Eichel said one of the data points he was most encouraged by was the number of building permits issued last year as investment in the city continues to grow. Last year, the city issued building permits for nearly 4,000 housing units — in no year since 1990 (because that’s as far back as Eichel could find) has the city issued permits for even 3,000 units.

As those building permits are being issued and developers continue putting housing units throughout the city, Philadelphia is increasingly becoming a city of renters as millennials and immigrants often rent more, buy later. In fact, the number of housing units is quite close to getting to the point where there are actually more renter-occupied units than owned units.

5. Poverty is still pervasive, more here than elsewhere.

Philadelphia’s poverty rate in 2014 was 26.3 percent, which is not the highest among large cities, Eichel said, but still very high. Over 400,000 people in Philly are living below poverty line and half a million are eligible for food stamps. The poverty is vast, and it’s concentrated, and Eichel called it “a reality check on all the good feeling.”

Here’s where the city’s poverty rate stands among other large American cities:

Photo: Josh Dubin, Pipeline Philly

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