Philadelphia Metropolis


Less Bad is the New Good

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 Now that the fog of recession has lifted a bit we can take a look at how Philadelphia did during the economic downturn.  The short answer is: not so bad.

We have lost jobs in the city since the recession began in earnest in August 2008, but Philadelphia actually did better than the U.S. and the suburbs in that category. In other words, we lost jobs, but lost fewer.

Paul Levy Use This.jpgHousing prices have dipped by seven percent, according to the latest figures by uber-real estate analyst Kevin Gillen. But compare and contrast that to other cities, such as Boston (-15%), New York (-21%), Washington, D.C. (-27%), Los Angeles (-42%) and Phoenix (-51%). On the whole, I'd rather be in Philadelphia.

The unemployment rate is still higher than the national average (by about 2 points), but certain sectors in town have weathered the recession well: Eds & Meds and tourism are two sectors where the number of employees have increased, even in the teeth of the economic storm.

In Center City - defined as river to river, Washington to Girard Avenue - housing sales are showing sign of recovery, according to Paul Levy, head of the Center City District.

In an analysis released last week, the CDC showed that home sales have increased 24 percent so far this year, compared to 2009; and the time for-sale homes remain on the market has slipped as well.

As Levy put it: "The less bad is the new good."

So, using that (oddly shaped) yardstick, Philadelphia is doing good.

That is different than the past.  In previous years, Philadelphia was the first to enter a recession, felt its effects more deeply, and emerged from the fog later than others.

But, these were in the days when manufacturing was the backbone of the Philadelphia economy.  Those days are gone. Manufacturing now accounts for a little less than four percent of all the jobs - about 25,000 out of 646,000.

The largest sector is Eds & Meds, with 207,000 jobs - 32 percent of the total.

Another way to look at it is that the loss of manufacturing jobs in a recession cannot hurt us because there's simply not enough jobs left in that sector.

Philadelphia has emerged, at long last, as a post-industrial city.

Whenever Levy holds a news conference, as he did last week to release new figures on jobs and development in Center City, the lyrics are always different, but the melody is the same: the importance of the downtown to the city's economy.

He usually comes armed with convincing numbers.

Center City is the hub of the post-industrial economy, with nearly 270,000 private sector jobs, and its "gravitational pull" brings in folks from all city's neighborhoods to work.  One out of five Philadelphians now work downtown, a share that rises the closer you get to City Hall. For instance, 48 percent of private-sector workers in the zip code that includes Northern Liberties work in Center City; the number is 47 percent in Bella Vista, 40 percent in Passyunk Square, 38 percent in Pennsport, 32 percent in Point Breeze and 30 percent in Grays Ferry.

That gravitational pull has been changing the neighborhoods adjacent to Center City, so much so that we may need to change our vocabulary in talking about downtown:

There is the old Center City - Delaware to Schuylkill Rivers and Vine to South and the new Center City, which extends from river to river and Girard Avenue south to Washington Ave. (Or maybe in homage to Bookbinders, we could call it the Old, Original  Center City.)

None of this is to say that the recession did not - and continues to - cause pain, among the poor, among the unemployed, among a sizeable portion of city residents. Overall, though, it is less pain that previous downturns caused.  To filch Levy's line, less pain is the new healthy.


-- TF

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