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:
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.