Pew Study Finds an Increase in People Moving Into Philadelphia, Outpacing the Rise in Departures

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A new analysis by The Pew Charitable Trusts' Philadelphia Research Initiative finds that the number of people moving into the city of Philadelphia has increased steadily in recent years, rising at a faster rate than the number of people moving out.

To be sure, more people still are leaving the city than are arriving; that has been the case in each of the 16 years for which data was analyzed (1993 to 2008, the last year available). But the net outflow to the suburbs and elsewhere has been decreasing in recent years, from a peak of 20,284 in 1995 to 9,846 in 2008. This has reduced the magnitude of a six-decade-old trend that was at the heart of the city's long-term population decline.

The report, Destination Philadelphia: Tracking the City's Migration Trends, is based on data compiled by the Internal Revenue Service, which tracks year-to-year address changes by individuals who file tax returns.

“These changes in migration patterns are significant, and they have gone largely unnoticed,” said Larry Eichel, project director of the Philadelphia Research Initiative and the author of the report. “Our main finding, that the city has been losing fewer residents in recent years, lends support to recent estimates from the U.S. Census indicating that Philadelphia's population has increased slightly during the past decade.”

A modest net outflow in the IRS migration data is not inconsistent with a growing overall population, particularly in a city such as Philadelphia where births outnumber deaths. In addition, the IRS data do not capture foreign immigrants, who have helped boost the city's population.

Among the other findings in the report are these:

  • The number of people moving into Philadelphia has increased steadily, from 31,837 in 1993 to 42,250 in 2008, up 33 percent over that period.  The number of people moving out of the city grew less rapidly, from 47,921 in 1993 to 52,096 in 2008.
  • The net outflow from Philadelphia to the four Pennsylvania suburban counties—Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery—was lower in 2008 than in any of the years studied, dropping to 7,352 from a peak of 12,595 in 1999, a decline of 42 percent.
  • The net outflow from Philadelphia to the three suburban New Jersey counties—Burlington, Camden and Gloucester—has slowed to a trickle. It stood at 1,031 in 2008, down 74 percent from its recent peak of 4,029 in 2002. The movement of people from Philadelphia to those three counties in 2008 was the lowest in the period studied, and the movement into the city was the highest.
  • The overall churn in Philadelphia's population—the number of people coming and going—has increased in recent years. Even so, the city experiences less population turnover from year to year than many other major urban jurisdictions. Based on the IRS data, the total number of people coming and going in 2008 amounted to 6.1 percent of the city's population. The median for 15 selected large urban jurisdictions was 8.3 percent.
  • Migration from New York City to Philadelphia more than doubled during the period studied, from 1,332 in 1993 to 3,100 in 2008, thereby supporting the notion that Philadelphia has become a haven for some New Yorkers priced out of that city. But the flow in the opposite direction increased sharply during the past few years, reducing the net in-flow from New York to only 212 in 2008.

Some demographic analysts believe that the recession has worked to the benefit of Philadelphia and other major cities—in terms of their retaining population—by making it harder for people to move. And there is historical evidence to support that belief. In any event, the overall trends detailed in this report were in place before the downturn took hold.

As the analysis shows, about half of the movement of people in and out of Philadelphia involves locations within the metropolitan area. Outside the region, New York City, Los Angeles County, Cook County (Chicago) and Allegheny County (Pittsburgh) are high on the list of places to which Philadelphians move and from which they come, as is Puerto Rico. So, too, are several Florida counties, as well as counties in the northern New Jersey, Baltimore, Boston and Washington, DC, areas.

About the Study
To prepare this brief, Larry Eichel, project director of the Philadelphia Research Initiative, analyzed Internal Revenue Service data from the years 1993 to 2008, the last year for which data was available.  The information is based on year-to-year address changes by individuals who file tax returns. The IRS data understate actual migration numbers both to and from the city because they do not include several classifications of people such as new arrivals from foreign countries and those without enough income to be required to file tax returns.