Philadelphia is undergoing the longest streak of job growth since World War II, with nine years of continual improvement, but there’s a trend that undercuts the positive news.
Unlike other large American urban centers experiencing a boom, the majority of Philly’s opportunities are lower-wage, according to a new report — with 60% of the new jobs in sectors where people earn $35,000 or less a year.
Just over 71,000 new jobs joined the Philly market in 2018, per an analysis conducted by the Center City District and its nonprofit advocacy and engagement arm, the Central Philadelphia Development Corporation.
That means the Philly workforce expanded pretty fast last year — the year-over-year growth rate is 2.3%, which is above the average for the 25 largest U.S. cities. Western cities like Austin, Phoenix and San Francisco lead the pack, while NYC saw growth that was comparable to Philly at 2.4%.
When you expand the picture to include the entire Philadelphia Metropolitan Statistical Area, which stretches from Camden to Wilmington and includes parts of Bucks and Chester counties, growth has been somewhat slower — 1.8% was the rate last year — but that’s in line with the national average.
In Philly proper, the current count is 724,000 jobs, which is still tens of thousands below the number in 1990, and a full quarter fewer than the near-million jobs the city offered in 1970, an inflection point when American urban centers began to see their populations and influence massively decline.
Over the past decade, half of all new jobs in Philly were in social assistance or food and beverage services, according to the CPDC report.
On one hand that’s positive, because you don’t necessarily need a college education to work in those industries — and more than two-thirds of Philly’s population is without a degree. On the other hand, those industries typically pay barely more than a living wage and offer few chances for upward mobility.
Looking at the 2018 jobs numbers by sector puts Philadelphia’s situation in sharp contrast.
On average, other large U.S. cities saw almost twice as much growth in industries that pay between $35k-$100k per year, and significantly more growth in top-tier positions where people make $100k or more.