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A Tale of Two Philadelphias: Census data reveals income inequality around the city’s most segregated neighborhoods

Seen as a whole, Philadelphia is a diverse city. Its population is approximately 43 percent black, 37 percent white, 12 percent Hispanic/Latino and 6 percent Asian. But those numbers belie a major problem for the city:

Inside that diversity is a lot of segregation.

Philadelphia is heavily segregated, and it has been for a long time. In fact, according to a 2015 study by Princeton sociology professor Douglas Massey, Philadelphia is one of only five American big cities to retain the distinction of a “hypersegregated” city from 1970 to 2010. Hypersegregated basically means the great majority of a city’s black residents are unevenly distributed into bunched-together areas that are isolated from most white residents. Hypersegregation tends to lead to higher rates of crime and poverty and below average schools.

This is a look at Philadelphia’s 10 most segregated neighborhoods, in terms of the highest percentages of black residents and white residents, as well as the differing lifestyles in those neighborhoods. Data comes from the 2013 U.S. Census American Community Surveys data and has been compiled for neighborhoods by using the given tracts that best match the boundaries of each neighborhood.

The most-segregated neighborhoods

Philadelphia is made up of more than 400 census tracts. Thirty-four of those tracts feature a population in which 90 percent of the residents are white. Seventy-eight of those tracks have a population in which 90 percent of the residents are black (Asians and Hispanics do not constitute a similar share in any Philadelphia tract).

Bunch these segregated tracts together into the neighborhoods they form, and the picture of Philadelphia’s most segregated neighborhoods emerges. As a note, these approximate percentages take into account people who identified themselves as any part white or part black. The percentages have been calculated by using data from the census tracts that best fit into widely accepted neighborhood boundaries. 

Heavily white neighborhoods on the map are shaded in dark green. Heavily black neighborhoods are shaded in red.

Ten most segregated black neighborhoods (with percentage of black residents)

  1. Strawberry Mansion: 98%
  2. West Oak Lane: 98%
  3. Cedarbrook: 97%
  4. Cobbs Creek: 96%
  5. Kingsessing: 96%
  6. Allegheny West: 95%
  7. Mill Creek: 95%
  8. Nicetown: 95%
  9. Haddington: 94%
  10. Manuta: 94%

Ten most segregated white neighborhoods (with percentage of white residents)

  1. Girard Estate: 99%
  2. Bridesburg: 98%
  3. Fishtown: 96%
  4. Millbrook: 94%
  5. Olde Richmond: 93%
  6. Manayunk: 92%
  7. Society Hill: 92%
  8. Byberry: 91%
  9. Morrell Hill: 91%
  10. Roxborough: 88%

These neighborhoods are the extreme for racial homogeneity, but few neighborhoods in Philadelphia feature a racial makeup that comes close to mirroring the city as a whole, especially around Center City. Of the 16 neighborhoods that make up or are closest to Center City, 13 have populations that are at least 67% white.   

Two Philadelphias

Not only does the segregation suggest an inability for white people and black people to interact with each other on a daily basis, many of these neighborhoods feature different realities.

The heavily white neighborhoods are composed of 21 separate census tracts. Each one of those census tracts features a median annual household income higher than the Philadelphia median of $37,192, with many tracts well above that amount. The medians of Society Hill’s two census tracts are about $86K and $92K.

Segregated white neighborhoods and the median annual household incomes of their census tracts

  • Girard Estate: $54,561
  • Bridesburg: $44,104 and $47,892
  • Fishtown: $44,630
  • Millbrook: $50,656
  • Olde Richmond: $49,286
  • Manayunk: $54,667 and $59,880
  • Society Hill: $86,910 and $92,300
  • Byberry: $59,167 and $58,098
  • Morrell Park: $70,991 and $54,873
  • Roxborough: $61,932, $61,944, $70,512, $65,197, $61,382, $42,323 and $81,216

Nearly the opposite is true for the heavily black neighborhoods. Only West Oak Lane and Cedarbrook come close to matching the median incomes found in the white neighborhoods. The 10 mostly black neighborhoods are comprised of 41 separate census tracts. All but 10 of those tracts have median household incomes under $37,192, and many are well below it. Five census tracts in Haddington and Mantua have median annual household incomes below $18,000.

Segregated black neighborhoods and the median annual household incomes of their census tracts

  • Strawberry Mansion: $21,250, $27,070 and $25,382
  • West Oak Lane: $45,978, $43,509 and $32,500
  • Cedarbrook: $53,289, $40,380, $48,056, $48,146, $51,289, $43,081, $42,094 and $37,147
  • Cobbs Creek: $33,564, $21,630, $32,596, $39,327, $25,417, $23,654, $28,771 and $33,179
  • Kingsessing: $16,250, $27,941, $35,183, $27,941, $26,609, $29,516
  • Allegheny West/Swampoodle: $27,244, $20,357, $22,038, $21,314
  • Mill Creek: $21,645, $28,611, $35,978, $16,324
  • Nicetown: $21,917, $31,503, $24,768, $28,564, $21,600
  • Haddington: $17,939, $17,027, $22,360, $13,673
  • Mantua: $15,755 and $18,419

It’s not getting better either, in many cases. Around 40 percent of the heavily black census tracts have experienced a decline in median annual household income since 2009, despite median household incomes increasing citywide and nationwide during that period. For the heavily white neighborhoods, all but a few of the tracts experienced rises in median annual household income.

Philadelphia is like few other places in terms of its large share of impoverished, heavily minority neighborhoods. A recent study of 20 major U.S. cities illustrated that 6.3 percent of Philadelphia’s overall population lived in a racially concentrated area of poverty (census tracts where more than half the population is minority and more than 40 percent live below the poverty line). Only Detroit had a higher amount at 8 percent.

Income isn’t the only difference. The largely black neighborhoods are clustered in areas of Philadelphia with higher infant mortality rates, teen birth rates and cancer rates and lower life expectancies, according to data from the city’s department of health.       

Some of the mayoral candidates talked about two Philadelphias during this spring’s campaign. It’s easy to identify how Philadelphia is split, down to the neighborhood. It will be much more difficult to ensure a better quality of life for everyone in the city.

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