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What’s the State of the City? It’s complicated.
Contradictions abound when it comes to the current state of Philadelphia. The number of people with college degrees keeps growing while local schools keep struggling. The number of jobs increased in 2014, but Philadelphia’s economy still lagged behind the U.S. average. Though poverty levels and crime levels are decreasing as whole, certain neighborhoods remain dangerous and have low median incomes.
All of this can be gleaned from Pew’s just-released annual “State of the City” report. Billy Penn broke down some of the most interesting findings into five pieces of good news, four pieces of bad news and one ultimate conclusion. All of the charts and graphics come from Pew. We’ll start with the good news first.
Philly is getting more jobs
In 2014, the city added 8,800 jobs. That’s the biggest yearly increase in jobs for Philadelphia since 1999. The unemployment rate also fell to 7.8 percent.
Tourists love Philadelphia
Since 2009, the number of overnight visitors to Philadelphia — for business and leisure — has increased steadily. In 2013, the most recent year for which Pew had data, just over 15.5 million people visited Philadelphia. In 2008, that number was 13.45 million.
Also, the number of jobs in this sector (leisure and hospitality) rose 23 percent from 2004 to 2014. No other sector has seen a greater percentage increase in jobs in that timeframe.
The building boom continues
The city issued 3,973 building permits in 2014, 41 percent more than last year and the highest number since 1996. So developers are clearly confident Philadelphia will remain an attractive place to live.
We feel safer (and we probably are)
Pew has been polling Philadelphians for these types of reports for six years. In early 2015, 61 percent of residents said they feel completely or mostly safe in their neighborhoods at night. That’s the highest percentage Pew has recorded.
It makes sense. The crime rate and violent crime rate both fell in 2014, and since 2006 the rate of each has declined by about 20 percent and 33 percent, respectively. The number of homicides stayed about the same after a massive drop from 2012 to 2013.
Young college-educated people are living in Philadelphia
At 25.2 percent, the city’s overall percentage of the population with a college degree is lower than the U.S. average. But young people are bringing Philadelphia closer to the mean. Nearly 40 percent of Philadelphia residents age 25-to-34 have a college degree. That’s seven percentage points higher than the average for 25-to-34 year-olds in the United States and nearly 13 percentage points higher than it was for the same age group in Philadelphia in 2000.
Our city still faces economic problems worse than most big cities
The United States’ unemployment rate at the end of 2014 was 6.2 percent. And though its unemployment rate compares similarly or better to cities, its percentage of the population age 16 to 64 that is not working or looking for work is 31.9 percent. That’s a higher amount than most comparable cities except for Detroit and much higher than the U.S. average of 23.9 percent.
Philadelphia’s poverty rate is declining but still high
Nearly half (48 percent) of Philly households make less than $35,000 a year, and 26.3 percent of the city’s residents live under the poverty line. In 2011, that number was 28.4 percent (the poverty line is a yearly income of $23,850 for a family of four).
While that number is getting better, Philadelphia still has the largest percentage of impoverished people among the top 25 biggest cities in the U.S. except for Detroit. Since the financial crisis of 2008, median income in Philadelphia has also been declining at a greater rate than the U.S. average.
We are segregated by income and levels of safety
As has been the case for many years, Philadelphia’s problems loom larger in certain areas of the city, particularly North Philly. Out of 22 police districts, the top three in rates of violent crime were all in North Philly, and their combined number of violent crimes was about the same as the combined total of the 10 districts with the lowest rates of crime.
Poverty is also centered around North Philly and pockets of Southwest Philly. As you can see by this map from Pew, the areas with a median income below the poverty line sweep southwest from Central North Philly and barely touch the rest of the city.
One quick observation: Zip codes 19121, 19122 and 19122, which have average median household incomes below $30,000, experienced increases in home sales prices of 15 percent or more from 2009 to 2013. This could be a sign that those neighborhoods are starting to change.
Yes, the education system is a mess
Education, education, education. Nobody stops talking about this issue and for good reason. Though the high school graduation rate continues to trend upwards, the factors that point to the caliber of the actual education remain bleak.
In 2014, only four Philadelphia high schools boasted average SAT scores at or above the national average. And after seeing increases for several years, the percentage of students who graded out as proficient in math and reading sections (45.2 percent for math and 40 percent for reading) on state standardized tests in 2014 decreased for the third straight year.
Confidence in public schools is also low. Just 19 percent of Pew respondents rate Philadelphia public schools as good or excellent.
The optimistic conclusion
The good outweighs the bad, at least in people’s minds
Among all of these dueling story lines comes the greatest contradiction of all — a pleasing contradiction. Despite high poverty rates, income segregation, failing schools, etc. Philadelphians are excited about the future of the city. That’s right, Philadelphians, renown for their pessimism, are as optimistic as they’ve been since Pew started doing these surveys six years. Sixty-seven percent of respondents said they believe Philadelphia will be a better place in five years than it is now, and 48 percent said Philadelphia is headed in the right direction.
Postscript: How to learn more
We’re hosting a conversation with the Pew Trusts’ Larry Eichel on Tuesday, April 7. The event will take place at Pipeline Philly in Center City; details are below.