Philadelphia Metropolis

Metropolis Report


Philadelphia 2012

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By Tom Ferrick Jr. 

Mayor Nutter's second term will be influenced mostly by the world that lies outside of City Hall.  Right now, that world consists of a series of unanswered questions: Will the local economy improve? Will the city reverse its long decline in the number of jobs? Can public schools improve in the post-Ackerman era? Will crime continue its downward trend?

So many questions, so few answers

But, here is a snapshot of Philadelphia in 2011 drawn from the most recent data. It shows where we are today using key indicators.


Fewer Jobs

The recession has been hard on Philadelphia. For a while, it appeared could withstand the effects of the national economic downturn, but it soon settled over the city like a toxic Unemployment.jpgfog.  And the effects still linger, even though the recession is supposed to be over.

The story can be told in many ways -- with families suffering economic hardship, with an increase in mortgage foreclosures.

We offer two barometers.  One is the unemployment rate.  It was at 6 percent in 2007, the year Nutter ran for mayor. It has nearly doubled since then. Of course, this number only includes those who are looking for work.  It does not count folks who were laid off two or three years ago and have dropped off the radar.

The numbers tell us that joblessness is especially high among African-American and Latino men (approaching 25 percent) and people under the age of 25.




When it comes to job sectors, the last decade has seen a continued decline in Jobs by Sector.jpgmanufacturing jobs. (It is hard to imagine looking at the numbers that Philadelphia was once defined by its broad-based manufacturing sector.) But the effects of the recession can be seen in such sectors as construction and financial services.  The two bright spots are education and leisure/hospitality services, but the gains in these two categories were not enough to make up for the decline in the other eight.

It's an axiom of public policy that a city's prosperity rests on its ability to generate jobs for its inhabitants.  As this chart shows, traditional blue-collar work -- on assembly lines, at construction sites -- remains in decline.





Losing Ground

The good news is that Philadelphia gained population between 2000 and 2010, reversing Thumbnail image for phila-household-income.jpga 50-year decline.  The bad news is that the city is becoming poorer.  When adjusted for inflation, household income declined over the last 10 years and the number of people living in poverty reached new highs.

As this graphic shows, most Philadelphians are not wealthy -- they are not even within shouting distance of it. Only five percent of all households earn more than $150,000 or more a year, while 62 percent earn less than $50,000 a year.

Once again, the jump in poverty is probably due to the recession. Though the numbers change a point or two from year to year, the fact remains that one in four Philadelphians is poor.




Government in Crisis

The recession hit government with hard. Beginning in late 2008, tax revenues dived and the Nutter administration had to scramble to avoid huge deficits.  It did this through a combination of budget cuts and tax increases.  The sales tax went up, real estate taxes Thumbnail image for increases-decreases.jpgrose, a parking tax was instituted, planned reductions in the wage and businesses taxes were put on hold. The mayor tried and failed to levy taxes on sugared drinks and trash.

Since Nutter took office in 2008, the size of the city payroll has declined -- through attrition; there have been no layoffs -- while city spending,  adjusted for inflation has experienced close to zero growth.

But, the pain has not fallen equally on all sectors of government.  During the recession, the administration continued the decade-long trend of robbing Peter (the city's central bureaucracy and neighborhood-based services) to feed Paul (debt service and fringe benefit costs.)

You get a better view of the trend by comparing 2001 with 2011. Overall, city government spending has exceeded inflation by nine percent. Most of that additional money went into the fringe benefit pot -- which registered a 67 percent increase over the decade.



Changing City
A new dynamic was in play during the first decade of the new century. The number of white and black residents remained roughly the same.  Most of the growth -- and the growth that fueled the city's slight bump in population -- came from the influx of Asians middle_400.jpgand Latinos. Both groups also have higher birth rates than whites and African-Americans.

They also tend to be poorer.

Despite the growth of population in Center City, there is no evidence that the trend of the last 40 years -- flight of the middle class -- has abated. What was called white flight 30 years ago, should now be called multi-racial, multi-ethnic flight.

This chart shows the change in the number of black residents in the townships and boroughs that touch Philadelphia's borders. Many saw huge increases in the number of black residents.  These are staggering numbers, given the relatively short time period covered. 

Not all the Philadelphia expats are affluent. There is evidence of working class families, slipping over the border from West Philadelphia to places like Upper Darby and Yeadon, looking for less crime, better schools and a patch of green lawn.




Crime & Education

Let's not kid ourselves. Philadelphia has a lot of crime, but the one unalloyed piece of crime_400-thumb-400x770-1077.jpggood news in this decade is a sharp and continued decline in the number of crimes.

We entered the new century recording nearly 100,000 major crimes -- homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, etc. This year, the number is likely to fall below 73,000.

Homicides spiked a bit this year, but still are lower than the peak year of 2006 when they exceeded 400 murders.





Public education remains Philadelphia's Vietnam. This year was a turbulent one for the school system. Superintendent Arlene Ackerman was shown the door, after a three-year reign marked by an authoritarian and divisive style.  The district had to grapple with a $650-million plus budget deficit, forcing it to layoff thousands of employees and slash and burn basic school services.

Student performance has been on a steady uptick in the last decade, but still remains far below national norms. To summarize, performance is better but still bad.

One particularly troubled area is the city's neighborhood high schools, many of which have drop-out rates approaching 50 percent and on-time graduation rates in the same range.  This chart ranks four-year graduation rates at the neighborhood highs. The institutions tasked with educating the workforce of tomorrow are failing today.




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