Philadelphia has recently been known for its booming development, affordability, and growing millennial population. As a student at the University of Pennsylvania, I am aware of the transformational development and young faces throughout the city. At the same time, I could walk several blocks north from where I live, towards areas most students have no reason in going, and witness deep-poverty in the midst of North Philadelphia.
North Philadelphia is one of the many communities in Pennsylvania that has been continually stuck in deep-poverty. Deep-poverty is defined as a household income of half the poverty line or less. With a poverty line of $24,000, that is an annual income of $12,000 or less. The worst part is most communities in deep-poverty tend to stay that way. North Philadelphia, for example, had a poverty rate of 39 percent in 1970 and jumped to as high as 57 percent in 2010.
Among the 10 largest cities in the United States, Philadelphia has the highest deep poverty rate of 12.3 percent, which is almost double the nation’s average. To put it in perspective, this represents around 200,000 people, which is more than the populations of cities like Berkeley, CA., Syracuse, NY., and Dayton, OH.
The causes of high poverty levels in Philadelphia are hard to pinpoint. Scholars believe it is largely due to Philadelphia’s long-term contraction of industrial jobs from 1880 to 2000, which caused the city’s labor force to decentralize. At the same time, from 1970-2000, the suburbs’ post-industrial, service jobs were growing faster than the city. The suburbs also offered better schools, new housing, and more opportunities. These factors caused Philadelphia to lose 255,244 jobs while nearby Pennsylvania and New Jersey suburbs added 752,749 jobs. The loss of jobs was followed by a steady loss of residents. Over the same time period, 23 percent of Philadelphia’s population, or 431,059 residents, migrated out of Philadelphia.
This massive reduction in Philadelphia’s population, along with the number of people living in poverty increasing from 294,434 to 336,177, drove its poverty rate to 23 percent in 2000. Had there not been the decrease in population, Philadelphia would have had a poverty rate of 17 percent, which is more align with the rest of the nation.
Others also understandably blame the cause of poverty to be the city’s poor public education system, antiquated tax structure, and slow job growth rate of 1.1 percent for the past five years, compared to the nation’s average of 2.2 percent.
A 2016 study done by City Observatory took a close look at deep-poverty neighborhoods in 51 of the largest metropolitan areas, with a population more than 1 million, from 1970 to 2010. The study found that a main driver for deep-poverty is concentration.
The study emphasized two themes. The first being the persistence of deep poverty: Since 1970, three-quarters of deep-poverty neighborhoods are still in poverty today. The report determined that the likelihood of a deep-poverty neighborhood coming out of poverty is 1 in 20. The second being the spread of concentrated poverty: Since 1970, there are three-times as many neighborhoods with poverty rates more than 30 percent, and the population of these neighborhoods have doubled.
A recent report was done by Center City District and the Central Philadelphia Development Corporation, which further emphasized the existence of concentrated poverty in Philadelphia. The report also talked about how to foster city-wide revival. It mentioned well-funded, quality public schools are a necessary component to city revival, but they are not a sufficient foundation. An educated workforce will be attracted to places with the most job opportunities, and, as mentioned earlier, Philadelphia’s job growth rate has been towards the bottom of the nation. The solution the report pointed emphasized was tax reform. A more detailed explanation of Philadelphia’s current tax structure and proposed reform could be found in the report.
Philadelphia is facing a detrimental combination of a shamefully high poverty rate, spreading concentrated poverty, and subpar job growth. The city must act on these issues, and a tax reform is the first step that any type of city-wide revival is contingent on.