Philadelphia City Hall

City Hall is reflected in a puddle, which can symbolize the topsy turvy economy of Philadelphia detailed in a Pew Charitable Trusts report. — AP Photo/Matt Rourke

A new study details Philadelphia as a city that is both thriving and faltering, where a nation-leading poverty rate overshadows its growth.

“Until the poverty numbers fall, they will remain, as they have for years, the context in which many other indicators of the state of the city are judged,” according to a Pew Charitable Trusts report titled “State of the City.”

The 10th annual report, released Thursday, shows the city’s job growth outpacing national averages; more people (primarily immigrants) moving into the city; and home prices increasing by 63% since 2010.

But the poverty rate has remained around 26% for the past five years, the highest among the nation’s most populous cities; the homicide and homeless rates are up; and homeownership is down. And while Blacks make up more than 40% of the city’s population (the city’s largest racial and ethnic group), they own a mere 2.5% of the region’s businesses.

“The city has more thriving neighborhoods certainly than it did a decade ago, but the contrast between the thriving and the struggling neighborhoods is as dramatic as ever,” said Larry Eichel, project director of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Philadelphia research initiative who worked on the report.

Rodney Muhammad, the president of the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP, said the city’s successes ought to be judged by its poverty rate. He said Black and Brown people were not thriving in the city, many of whom are born into and remain in poverty.

Driving poverty here was a lack of jobs; a failure of quality educational opportunities, such as universal pre-kindergarten; and a low minimum wage in the state, set at the federally mandated $7.25 an hour, Muhammad said.

“These are the sandbags” holding people back, Rodney said. “You can’t be a world class city with a permanent underclass.”

Black- and minority-owned businesses

Philadelphia’s robust economy and job growth is leaving out Black and minority businesses owners, the report’s figures show.

The city’s average number of jobs in 2018 was the highest since 1991 — 724,400. Over the past decade, the city has added roughly 61,000 jobs, although most of the growth has occurred in recent years.

The city added more than 15,000 jobs in 2018 over the previous year, outpacing the national average. The city’s unemployment rate was 5.5% in 2018, which has reached a low not seen since 2000 but was above the national average of 3.9%.

But African Americans held 2.5% — 1 in 40 — of all businesses in the region in 2016, while whites owned 76%, according to census figures where the report could determine ownership.

Of the 112,000 businesses included in the count, those owned by African-Americans and Asians represented less than 3 percent of the total payroll.

A lack of access to capital was stifling minority-owned businesses from growing and expanding, said Della Clark, president of The Enterprise Center, which offers capital and training to minority entrepreneurs.

These business owners, Clark said, still face hidden biases when they are seeking financing and banking institutions that lend to “preferred ZIP codes,” also known as redlining.

“There’s not a shortage of minority CEOs who don’t want to grow,” she said. “That is not the issue in this city. The issue is the resources to grow.”

Moreover, she added that the low number of minority-owned businesses affects the employment of minorities: People tend to hire those who look like them, so fewer minority business owners end up hiring fewer people of color.

The vast majority of the new positions created in the city were created in the education and health services sectors (the city’s largest) during the past decade, but the sectors of leisure and hospitality and professional and business services saw great gains during that time, too.

Meanwhile, the manufacturing, financial and government sectors were the biggest losers in terms of jobs during the past 10 years.

The University of Pennsylvania was the city’s largest employer in 2018, followed by Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Temple University and Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

Population changes and immigrants

The city marked 11 consecutive years of population growth in 2017. The population has increased 6.2% — about 60,000 people — since 2006, according to the report.

Philadelphia’s population in 2017 — 1,580,863 — made it the sixth-largest city in the country behind New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Phoenix.

While millennials have long been credited for the population boost in Philadelphia and other cities, a dramatic growth in the number of immigrants here “may be even a bigger part of that story,” Eichel said.

The share of Philadelphia’s population born outside of the country — 13.8% — is the highest in more than a century.

Hispanics and Asians also continue to change the city’s racial makeup, more than doubling their numbers since since 1990 to make up 14.8% and 7.5% of the population in 2017, respectively, according to the report.

The Black population in the city continues to remain relatively stable as it has for decades, but the group’s numbers declined from 42.3% of the population in 2010 to 40.9% in 2017.

Whites also saw declines in their share of the population between the same time period, dropping from 37% to 34.6% percent.

Population changes by ZIP code

Twenty-four ZIP codes experienced population increases since the start of the century, including those clustered in Center City and University City, and portions of Northwest, like Fox Chase, and portions of South Philadelphia east of Broad Street.

While nine ZIP codes declined in population since 2000, two dropped by more than 15%: 19132 in North Philadelphia and 19136 in the Holmesburg area.

The remaining ZIP codes saw little change in population during that time.

The homeless population

Blacks made up the majority of the homeless population in a recent citywide count.

In January, the city counted 5,788 homeless people during its annual one-night count of those on the street and in emergency shelters, transitional housing and temporary drop-in centers. Blacks accounted for 75% of those individuals, according to the report.

The number of people considered unsheltered grew from 6% of the homeless population in 2014 to 19% in 2018.

According to officials, the opioid crisis is driving the increase of homeless people living on the street, the report said. The recent annual count found that 34% of homeless adults reported a substance use disorder.


Philadelphia leads large cities in overdose deaths, the report found.

The city’s 65.2 drug overdoses for every 100,000 residents in 2017 was the highest among the nation’s counties with at least a million residents.

Unintentional drug overdoses were estimated to drop in 2018.

Unintentional drug overdoses fueled by the opioid crisis hit a high of 1,217 in 2017, city officials expect the figure to drop to 1,100 in 2018. Accidental drug overdoses were the highest in the areas around Kensington in 2017, a neighborhood where the mayor declared a disaster last year.

Homicides and violent crimes

Homicides jumped 11% from the previous year to 351, hitting a 10-year high.

Philadelphia has the fifth highest homicide rate, 22.2 per 100,000 residents — a rate higher than Chicago’s. Baltimore has the highest per capita homicide rate, 50.2 per 100,000 residents.

The number of shooting incidents rose 17% to 1,403 in 2018 compared to the previous year.

At the same time, violent crime dipped 5% in 2018 compared to 2017, marking a third consecutive year of decline.

Over the past decade, the number of violent crimes — including homicide, rape, robbery, and assault — fell 31%, with major crimes down 23%, the latter of which includes violent crimes and property crimes.

But again, violent crime has decreased unevenly throughout the city.

From 2016 to 2018, violent crime fell by 26% in South Philadelphia/West, nearly 24% in the Bustleton, 20% in Oxford Circle and 19% in Frankford. Conversely, it increased nearly 11% in Center City/East and 6.5% in Juniata Park/Feltonville.


Previously ranking among the top in the country in locking up its residents, the city has reduced its jail population from 8,932 to 5,251 over five years, which the report noted was “perhaps the most dramatic sign of a broad attempt by the city to reshape its criminal justice system.”

The housing market

More homes were sold in Philadelphia in 2018 than any year since 2006, but the housing market continues to have low inventory.

The median home price rose to $168,225 in 2018, which represents an increase of 63% compared to 2010, but remains below other large cities.

While the rate of increases in home sale prices was not equally distributed, all ZIP codes experienced some growth except ZIP code 19131, which includes the Overbrook and Wynnefield neighborhoods.

The largest increases in home sales were in parts of South Philadelphia, Center City, Fishtown and lower North Philadelphia.

Sales of private residential units were up in 2018, marking the seventh consecutive year of increases. The sales of residential units was the most since 2006.

In 2018, the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections issued permits for the construction of 3,239 residential units, a figure which has remained stable since 2016.

Renters on the rise

The city has traditionally had high home ownership, unusual among larger, older cities, but that is changing.

For the first time on record, renters lived in more residential units than were occupied by homeowners in 2017.

Renters account for 51% of city occupants, compared to homeowners at 49% that year. Between 2007 and 2017, the number of renter-occupied properties skyrocketed 29% while the number owner-occupied units dipped by 8%.

Rental costs

In 2017, 54% of city renters were spending 30% or more of their income on rent and utilities, which is the threshold for housing affordability. Philadelphia ranked second only to Detroit in regards to that figure.

Moreover, 32% of renters were paying half their income or more on rent.

The median cost for a two-bedroom unit — including rent and utilities — in 2017 was $1,051, making the city more affordable than those units in Washington, D.C., and Boston, but less affordable than Detroit and Cleveland.

Median Household income

Philadelphia’s median household income declined during the past two years and lags behind the national average, according to the report.

The city’s median household income is $39,759, which is far less than the national average of $60,336 as well as many comparable cities, including Pittsburgh, Chicago and Baltimore.

The city’s high-earning neighborhoods are in Center City and Northwest Philadelphia; the low-earning areas are clustered in North and West Philadelphia.

High school graduation rates

The four-year high school graduation rate continued to climb, jumping 12 percentage points to 69% in 2018 compared to 2008, but it remains far below the national rate of 84%.

The city spent $13,755 per student during the 2016-17 school year, which is the second-lowest expenditure among comparable cities, which include Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., and Detroit.

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