Philadelphia Metropolis

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One Foot Out the Door

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Phila Map.jpgWhen you boil it down, there are two kinds of jobs for Philadelphians.

The first is the kind where you can walk, bike, take a bus or drive to a destination in town.  The second is where you have to travel out of the city to work.

It used to be the first kind was the most abundant.  Back in the day, the neighborhoods had plenty of employment opportunities, mostly in the form of large manufacturing plants. [In the 1930's, nearly 40 percent of Kensington residents walked to work.]

That hasn't been true for 50 years -- and it is becoming less true as each day passes.

Today, they are fewer jobs in the city, so Philadelphians have to leave town to work:  each day 38 percent of Philly residents commute out to jobs in the suburbs and elsewhere.

In some neighborhoods, such as the Northwest and Northeast, the numbers approach 50 percent.

I call these one-foot-out-the-door workers. They are already traveling out of the city to work in King of Prussia, Abington, Upper Darby and Camden County.  How long will it take for them to decide to cut their commuting time, lower their taxes, and retreat to a suburban life of green lawns and good schools?  This is especially true of middle class, white collar workers -- who have the means to buy into the suburban dream.

[See our piece on the flight of the black middle class for an example of this phenomenon.]

Census data shows that in the period between 2000 and 2010, the number of Philadelphians working out of town increased by 60,000.

As the same time, the number of Philadelphians who work in the city declined by 96,000.

Here are the numbers writ large:  As of 2010, 333,877 Philadelphians worked inside the city and 201,776 worked outside the city limits.

Why is this so?

The simple answer is: there aren't enough jobs within Philadelphia for city residents. As a report issued last week by the Center City District shows, private sector employment in Philadelphia -- measured over time -- looks like a Poconos ski slope. From a peak of 766,000 jobs in 1970, it has gone down down down in each subsequent decade. Between 2000 and 2010, the number declined from 576,300 to 550,300. We are on a pace to slide to 475,000 jobs in 2020. A grim set of numbers.

Work Data.jpgIt isn't all bad news. As Paul Levy, head of the Center City District put it, the city has strong "nodes of employment" that generate a huge number of jobs. Center City is the largest: 38 percent of all jobs in the city can be found in this area. University City is second with 11 percent. The Temple University area is third with three percent. Coming in fourth, it the rapidly expanding Navy Yard area, with one percent.

And then?

And then nothing. As the CCD report reveals, outside of Center City very few Philadelphians work in their neighborhoods because there are no jobs there. They have to go to one of the in-city "nodes" or hop in the car and cross the city line.

Levy's shop is masterful at generating numbers. And while each report has different lyrics, the melody is the same -- Philadelphia's tax structure (high taxes on wages and profits) impedes business growth. Our taxes are job killers, not job creators.

Entrepreneurship is stifled. Innovation is punished. We cannot compete with the suburbs, let along the rest of the world.

In the short run, it is good that so many Philadelphians are working in the burbs -- at least they are working. In the long run, though, it means that if a worker has a job outside the city, his or her family may soon follow. The downward spiral of job loss leads inevitably to a downward spiral of the city. We lose the wealth we need to support and sustain city services.

So, the next time you are sitting on the Schuylkill Expressway driving into the city, take notice of the crowded westbound lane headed out. That is a snapshot of the future of Philadelphia. It is not a pretty picture.

-- Tom Ferrick

Photo: U.S. Census date on inflow/outflow of workers.

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