Pew Report Examines Hiring and Employment in Philadelphia Government

Analysis shows municipal regulations offer hiring managers less latitude than in other big cities

Pew Report Examines Hiring and Employment in Philadelphia Government

PHILADELPHIA—A new analysis by The Pew Charitable Trusts finds that Philadelphia’s civil service regulations offer its hiring managers less flexibility than their counterparts in many of the nation’s most populous cities, potentially limiting the infusion of new talent into the ranks of city government.

Pew performed the study at the request of Philadelphia officials, and the resulting report, “Hiring and Employment in Philadelphia City Government,” describes the city’s hiring procedures, the issues connected with them, and how other large cities are handling similar concerns. The report also analyzes the demographic composition of Philadelphia’s municipal workforce and compares it with the city’s overall population.

Interviews with over 40 Philadelphia officials produced a portrait of the city’s hiring and promotion practices as cumbersome, inflexible, and slow. The research showed that from 2013 to 2015, the median time between an individual submitting an application and getting selected for a position was 360 days—and some applicants sat on waiting lists for up to two years. As a result, some of the most desirable candidates were no longer available by the time a job offer could be made. Other key findings of the research:

  • Some of Philadelphia’s civil service regulations offer the city’s hiring managers less latitude than their counterparts in other cities have. One example is the Rule of Two, which limits a hiring manager in Philadelphia to considering only the two highest-ranking candidates on a vacancy’s eligibility list, with each applicant given a precise numerical rating based on exam scores and other factors. Among the nation’s 30 largest cities, all others give managers a greater number of candidates to consider, although several other large cities limit the selection to the top three candidates.
  • Philadelphia’s charter dictates that “vacancies shall be filled by promotion whenever possible.” In practice and with few exceptions, this charter language limits the infusion of new talent at the middle and higher levels of civil service.
  • In evaluating job candidates, Philadelphia tends to rely more heavily than other cities do on exam scores rather than resumes. In addition, Philadelphia gives applicants more ways to add bonus points to their exam scores that may or may not be related to the work—through language fluency, advanced degrees, military service, or having a parent or grandparent who was killed in the line of duty as a police officer or firefighter.
  • Unlike most cities studied, Philadelphia does not have a centralized recruiting office. As a result, recruitment efforts are limited, with departments responsible for generating candidates for open positions—a task they are not always well-prepared or incentivized to perform.
  • Philadelphia’s municipal workers are representative of the city they serve in some ways but not in others. As a group, they include higher percentages of blacks and whites than the population as a whole and smaller shares of the Latino and Asian communities.
  • Among city workers, men are paid more than women, and whites make more than members of other racial and ethnic groups. Much of this is a result of some groups being more heavily concentrated in certain job categories than others.

“Philadelphia, like many U.S. cities, faces the challenge of attracting top talent and diversifying its municipal workforce while complying with long-standing regulations that can restrict the pool of candidates,” said Katie Martin, a researcher with Pew’s Philadelphia research initiative and the report’s co-author. “The challenge now is for the city to figure out how best to compete for the talent its workforce will need in the years ahead while adhering to the goal of fair, meritocratic hiring practices.”


The Pew Charitable Trusts is driven by the power of knowledge to solve today’s most challenging problems. Pew’s Philadelphia research initiative provides timely, impartial research and analysis on key issues facing Philadelphia for the benefit of the city’s residents and leaders.

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Hiring and Employment in Philadelphia City Government

An examination of the structure, processes, and challenges with the current system

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In hiring municipal employees, Philadelphia, like many U.S. cities, faces the challenge of attracting top talent and diversifying its workforce while adhering to long-standing regulations that often restrict the pool of candidates. To residents, municipal workers embody city government; and to a large degree, their performance determines the quality and perception of city services.