Philadelphia Metropolis


The New Philadelphia

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Celebrate10.jpgThe face of the New Philadelphia is brown with dark, almond-shaped eyes.

It is the Mexicans who have settled in South Philadelphia; the Dominicans who are moving into the Lower Northeast; the Chinese who are settling all over the city.

These are the folks mostly responsible for the continued rise in the city's population.

The most recent U.S. Census Bureau data confirms it. The Bureau recently reported that Philadelphia's population increased by about 10,000 between mid-2010 and mid-2011.

It's good news for the city.  After 50 years of decline, Philadelphia is growing again, a fact confirmed by the 2010 census and fortified by the latest numbers. According to the census, the city is now home to 1,536,471 people.

Beneath these latest numbers lie...well, more numbers that help tell the story.  Here are the fundamentals of  population dynamics in Philadelphia:

1. More immigrants with higher birth rates

The latest increase is due to two factors:  the number of births outpacing the number of deaths and the arrival of foreign immigrants to offset the exodus of people from the city. To generalize, the people who are leaving tend to be those who can afford to -- middle-class folks -- and those who are arriving tend to be poor.

In the last 10 years, Latinos were the group that experienced the most growth. Between 2000 and 2010, Latino Philadelphia grew from 130,000 people to 180,000, a 45 percent increase. As a group, Latinos are the poorest in the city, with household incomes far below the city's average of $36,700 a year.

In the last 10 years, Asians ranked second in growth. They went from 68,000 in 2000 to 96,000 in 2010 -- a 43 percent increase.

Portrait10.jpgThe growth is due to two factors: continued migration of Latinos and Asians into the city and a high birth rate. According to the city Health Department, the birth rate among Latino women is the highest in the city -- 22.2 births per thousand women, compared to 9.5 births per thousand for white women. For Asian women, the figure is 15.5. These figures are for 2009, the latest available.

In that same year, according to the department, the top countries of origin for foreign-born mothers were Mexico (316 births), the Dominican Republic (290 births), China (278), Vietnam (229), India and Liberia (182 each), Haiti (165) and Jamaica (156).

2. Fewer and fewer whites.

There has been a surge in white births in Center City, a trend that has gone hand-in-hand with the increase in population there, but white births citywide are declining: there were 37,000 white babies born in the five-year period beginning in 2000, but only 28,000 over the next five years. As mentioned, the birth rate among white women is the lowest among all racial/ethnic groups.

This is part of an overall trend in decline of whites in the city. They equaled 43 percent of the city's population in 2000 and 37 percent in 2010. The number of white Philadelphians declined 81,000 (-13%) during that 10-years period.

The decline was evident in every age group -- except for young adults. The number of whites aged 21 through 39 increased by 6,000 citywide during the decade. This is due mostly to the increase in the number of young adults in Center City and environs.

Greater Center City, which is mostly white, had a surge in population in the last decade (up 10.2%), but that was not enough to offset the death and departure of whites elsewhere in the city.

3. Blacks at the tipping point.

The number of blacks remained virtually stagnant between 2000 and 2010. African Americans numbered 656,000 in 2000 and 662,000 in 2010. The black birth rate remained consistent (about 10,700 children born each year), but there is growing evidence of black flight from Philadelphia to the suburbs. (For details, read our earlier story called Black Exodus.)

One indicator is the number of blacks under the age of 21. It declined eight percent during the decade. The data suggests that younger black parents with children are departing the city for the suburbs once their child gets to school age.

In the period between 2000 and 2010, the black population appeared in to be equilibrium: blacks constituted 44 percent of the city's population in 2000 and 44 percent in 2010.

Will it remain the same or will it decline? Decline seems likely, though we won't know for sure until the 2020 census is done.

This is the story by the numbers. It is a story is change -- in ways no one could have foretold.

But, there is another way to see changing Philadelphia. On a sunny afternoon, take a walk down 10th Street from Bainbridge Street nine blocks south to Dickinson Street.

When I took the walk there recently this is what I saw: a scrum of 10 Asian middle schoolers playing in the basketball courts at Palumbo Rec Center; a cluster of three to seven years olds, most of them white, playing in the Palumbo playground. Further down the block, came an irregular procession of young Mexican women pushing baby carriages up the block. Sometimes a Mexican father trailed behind, pulling a toddler along.

This is not something you would have seen in this neighborhood 20 years ago.

But, this is not the Philadelphia of the 70s, 80s or 90s. This is the New Philadelphia.

-- Tom Ferrick


Photos by Peter Tobia






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