Like many cities, Philadelphia has some neighborhoods that are thriving and others that are faltering. But it has more of the former than it did a decade ago. Even so, the numbers at the heart of this year’s “State of the City” report show the contrasts between the city’s neighborhoods to be as dramatic as ever.
On a citywide basis, Philadelphia’s population has been rising steadily for more than a decade, a strong sign of civic well-being. But the growth has been concentrated in the center of the city and in pockets of the Northeast where immigrants have settled. In large swaths of North, Northwest, and West Philadelphia, the population has been declining or has stayed about the same.
Home sale prices have risen 63 percent since 2010, creating wealth in some parts of the city but not in others. Center City has seen the most substantial increases. In much of the Northeast, Northwest, and Southwest, however, the gains have been far more modest.
The percentage of adults with four-year college degrees continues to creep upward. But Philadelphia has relatively few neighborhoods where the share of degree-holders exceeds 50 percent; by contrast, in places such as Seattle, San Francisco, Boston, and Atlanta, that figure is approached or even surpassed citywide.
And Philadelphians’ median household income is above the national figure—more than $60,000—in only about a quarter of the city. In an area nearly as large, the median income is less than half that amount.
Another way to look at Philadelphia in 2019 is to focus on elements that have been changing citywide, mostly for the better, and on a few that haven’t shifted much at all.
In terms of job creation, Philadelphia has taken advantage of a relatively robust national economy—and outperformed it in some respects. Preliminary federal estimates put the city’s average number of jobs over the course of 2018 at the highest level since 1991, and unemployment at the lowest level since 2000.
The four-year high school graduation rate in public schools—now run by a local school board after nearly two decades of state control—continued its steady climb, reaching 69 percent for the Class of 2018. Although that’s far below the national rate of 84 percent, it’s 12 percentage points higher than it was a decade earlier.
As part of a trend several decades in the making, the population keeps becoming more diverse. Fifteen percent of the population is Hispanic, and 8 percent is Asian. Fourteen percent of Philadelphians are foreign-born, and another 13 percent have at least one foreign-born parent.
And in a city that traditionally has had one of the country’s highest levels of incarceration, the jail population fell to 5,251 in 2018, down from 8,932 just five years earlier—perhaps the most dramatic sign of a broad attempt by the city to reshape its criminal justice system.
However, the city’s homicide total represented one troubling change. Although violent crime overall dropped slightly in 2018, the number of murders rose to 351, up 11 percent in a single year and the largest total since 2007. Police officials attributed the increase, at least in part, to the city’s opioid crisis, one of the main elements that did not change as much last year as city officials had hoped.
Preliminary estimates indicate that the number of drug deaths in Philadelphia in 2018 was in the 1,100 range, slightly lower than the 1,217 recorded the previous year but still among the highest in the nation on a per capita basis. The opioid problem has brought several related problems; the city’s unsheltered homeless population has tripled since 2014, a situation most visible in the Kensington section.
And poverty remains a persistent challenge. The city’s poverty rate has been stuck in the 26 percent range for the past five years, a time when the rate has dropped in many other cities. Philadelphia has nearly 400,000 residents living below the poverty line, a fact that affects numerous aspects of city life.
Until the poverty numbers fall, they will remain, as they have for years, the context in which many other indicators of the state of the city are judged.
Though Philadelphia was ultimately not chosen for Amazon’s much-publicized new corporate headquarters, the city’s economy enjoyed a relatively good year in 2018.
The number of jobs in Philadelphia rose by more than 15,000 from 2017 to 2018, a growth rate more robust than the nation’s. And the local unemployment rate dropped, reaching levels not seen since 2000. Yet the city’s median household income and labor force participation rates continued to lag far behind those of the comparison cities and the country as a whole.
As in years past, the education and medical sectors were the mainstays of the economy, accounting for roughly one-third of all jobs and 11 of the city’s 15 largest private employers. Two other sectors—leisure and hospitality, and professional and business services—have also expanded in recent years.
In 2018, Philadelphia had 351 homicides—the most since 2007—up 11 percent from the previous year and 43 percent above the historic low recorded in 2013.
Similarly, there was a year-to-year increase of 17 percent in the total number of shooting incidents. The Philadelphia Police Department said the number of homicides for which drugs were the primary motive doubled from 2017, driving up the overall total.
At the same time, there was a modest decline in so-called major crimes, a category that includes rape, assault, and robbery as well as burglary, car theft, and other property crimes. Such offenses have been trending downward in the city for the past decade.
Philadelphia has made a concerted effort in recent years to reduce the jail population. In 2018, the average daily head count fell to 5,251, a 39 percent reduction over 10 years.
In 2018, the School District of Philadelphia returned to local control for the first time in 17 years.
The Board of Education replaced the School Reform Commission and assumed fiscal and operational oversight of the district. Mayor Jim Kenney appointed the nine-member Board of Education; and in future years, City Council will approve these appointments.
City officials aim to increase the percentage of 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in prekindergarten, a figure that has fluctuated in a narrow range around 50 percent in recent years. By fiscal year 2023, the city plans to fund 5,500 pre-K seats, up from 2,250 in early 2019.
Educational attainment among residents has risen steadily in the past few years. The share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree in 2017 was 28 percent, still far below the level in some other cities. But 43 percent of Philadelphians between the ages of 25 and 34 have at least a bachelor’s degree, well above the national average and higher than in many other cities.
More homes were sold in Philadelphia in 2018 than in any other year since 2006. Philadelphia’s housing market continued to have low inventory and strong sales compared with the national market.
Residential construction permits plateaued last year, although they are still high by historical standards. The median home price rose to $168,225, which remains below the figures in many other large cities.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia had roughly the same percentage of renters (51 percent) as homeowners (49 percent), a significant change for a city that has historically had a higher homeownership rate than other older U.S. cities. And nearly 54 percent of renters in Philadelphia, compared with 49 percent nationally, spend at least 30 percent of their income on rent; such households are considered rent-burdened under federal guidelines.
Fiscal responsibility, spending, and taxes continued to be major concerns for Philadelphia’s government.
The condition of the city’s pension funds was a focus for officials: Since 2009, the funds have had less than half of the assets needed to pay current and future obligations, although recent changes are expected to improve the situation in the years ahead. Public safety and employee benefits accounted for nearly 60 percent of general fund spending.
Locally generated tax revenue comes predominantly from the city’s wage tax, which makes Philadelphia different from most other municipalities. In 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the city’s sweetened-beverage tax—meant to fund pre-K, community schools, and a program to refurbish public libraries, recreation centers, and parks. The tax is projected to provide roughly 2 percent of locally generated tax revenue in fiscal 2019.
SEPTA ridership continued its multiyear decline, as the City Transit Division and Regional Rail saw another yearly drop in one-way rides.
The share of Philadelphia commuters using public transit fell to the lowest point in the past decade. With the two-year rollout of SEPTA’s electronic payment system, the Key Card, nearly complete, the transportation agency is looking to modernize its operations and improve service. The agency has also hired a consultant to assess options for improving its bus network.
Meanwhile, the Kenney administration remained committed to its Vision Zero plan, designed to eliminate all traffic-related deaths and major injuries by 2030. There were 94 such deaths in 2017, the last year for which data were available; the number of fatalities has held steady in recent years.
Culture and the arts provide a wide array of opportunities for Philadelphia residents and visitors to engage with the city’s history and creative spirit.
In 2018, 362 nonprofit organizations in Philadelphia had a primary focus on arts, culture, and the humanities, according to Internal Revenue Service records. That number grows to 640 when all groups that provide at least some arts and culture services or programming are included. The highest share of that total—38 percent—were groups active in the performing arts. Attendance was highest at the city’s many museums—accounting for 31 percent of the 2018 total—followed by historical organizations; libraries, zoos, arboretums, gardens, and aquariums; and the performing arts.
Cultural organizations contribute to the quality of life in the city and to its economy. In 2018, the sector employed an estimated 92,819 people, including full-time and part-time workers and independent contractors.
After four years of dramatic increases in drug deaths in Philadelphia, the total for 2018—estimated at 1,100—was little changed from 2017, when fatal overdoses reached a historic high.
The number of homeless people living on the street in Philadelphia increased from 361 in 2014 to 1,083 in 2018, largely the result of opioid use. At last count, 34 percent of homeless adults reported a substance use disorder.
At the same time, the number of Philadelphians enrolled in Medicaid continued to rise in 2018 following Pennsylvania’s expansion of the program for low-income families and individuals. And births to teenage mothers declined again, as they have for more than a decade. However, the past two years showed a slight uptick in the infant mortality rate, and poverty in the city remained stubbornly high, with 26 percent of Philadelphians falling below the federal threshold.