Pew 2011 State of the City Report Shows Philadelphia has Some Positive Trends, but Serious and Persistent Problems

Pew 2011 State of the City Report Shows Philadelphia has Some Positive Trends, but Serious and Persistent Problems

A new State of the City report from The Pew Charitable Trusts' Philadelphia Research Initiative portrays a city that is better off in some ways than it used to be but not as strong as it wants to be—or as strong as some comparable cities already are.

“While the good news is that Philadelphia's population has grown for the first time since the 1940s, other indicators paint a more complex picture of the city's overall well-being,” said Larry Eichel, project director of the Philadelphia Research Initiative and the primary author of the report. 

In a number of key areas, such as education, the trends are positive but the absolute numbers remain problematic. Test scores are up, as are the high school graduation rate and the percentage of adult Philadelphians with college degrees, now at 23 percent. But both lag far behind other cities and, in the case of the test scores, the state average.

In other areas, progress is nowhere to be found. “The persistence of poverty remains one of the great obstacles to Philadelphia's aspirations for a better future,” said Eichel.  The poverty rate stands at 25 percent, sixth-highest among the nation's 50 largest cities and about where it has been for nearly a decade.

On a more positive note, the city has a smaller percentage of residents without health insurance than some comparable cities, and is slightly better off in this regard than the nation as a whole. While the share of adults without coverage rose during the recession, the percentage of children lacking coverage has remained stable at about 5 percent.

Philadelphia 2011: The State of the City presents a multi-dimensional, fact-based portrait of America's fifth-largest city through 75 graphics drawn from a wide range of sources. It compares Philadelphia to a group of nine other major cities—chosen on the basis of size, location and makeup—on household income, tax burden, crime rate, educational attainment, public transit use, infant mortality rate, poverty rate and the age breakdown of the population. At various points in the report, the comparisons are expanded to include the nation's 50 largest cities.

In addition, the report provides Philadelphians with a neighborhood-by-neighborhood look at population change, income, poverty, home sales, crime, educational attainment and school absenteeism.

Among the other findings of the report are these:

  • In terms of median household income, Philadelphia ranks 45th out of the nation's 50 largest cities.  The income gap between the city and the suburban counties of Pennsylvania and New Jersey has grown substantially in the past decade. In 2009, the median income in Philadelphia was less than half the median in those areas.
  • Compared to the rest of the country, Philadelphia lost relatively few jobs during the recession. Even so, the average unemployment rate for city residents in 2010, 11.5 percent, was nearly two full points above the national average. And the city has a higher percentage of adults who are neither working nor looking for work than any major city in the U.S. except Detroit and Cleveland.
  • While major crime in Philadelphia has declined dramatically in recent years, the number of major crimes increased last year, albeit slightly, for the first time since 2006. The city's violent crime rate is eighth-highest among the 50 largest cities.
  • The number of people employed by Philadelphia city government has continued to drop; at the end of 2010, the total stood at 21,995 in the city's general fund, which supports the operations of most city services. This was the lowest employment level in well over a decade.
  • A higher percentage of Philadelphians, 24.9 percent, use mass transit to get to work than do residents of all but five other major cities in the U.S.—New York, Washington, Boston, San Francisco and Chicago.
  • The arts and culture sector remains one of Philadelphia's great strengths, deemed good or excellent by 87 percent of city residents and 94 percent of suburbanites. Residents of the region attend cultural events at a higher rate than the national average.

An interactive Web graphic (with embed code) depicting much of the data from the report is available at

Philadelphia 2011: The State of the City is available in PDF format at Printed copies will be available later this month. To request a printed copy, e-mail