Philadelphia 2023

The State of the City

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Philadelphia 2023
Diners sit at tables during lunch at Center City’s Reading Terminal Market.
Kriston Jae Bethel for The Pew Charitable Trusts

Editor’s note: This report was updated on May 22, 2023, with a new photo on page 31.

The Big Picture

In 2022, increasing numbers of Philadelphians re-engaged in the more public aspects of urban life, commuting to their workplaces again, resuming indoor dining at area restaurants, and attending concerts and other events around town.

There were some promising signs in that re-emergence. As COVID-19 concerns largely faded, many of the jobs that had disappeared in the early days of the pandemic returned, although the city still had fewer jobs than it had before. The unemployment rate—which had been over 12% in 2020 and around 9% in 2021—fell to 5.9%. Median household income rose to $52,899 in 2021, the last year for which figures were available, up 11% from 2019, but with significant disparities by race and ethnicity. 

Philadelphia’s finances were in an unexpectedly strong position as well, ending fiscal year 2022 with a $775 million fund balance driven by higher-than-expected revenue and several thousand unfilled city government jobs. And for the first time, the percentage of city residents age 25 or older with a college degree matched the national rate, at 35%, promising a workforce with more schooling. Nonetheless, Philadelphians had any number of worries on their minds, including a slowing economy, increasing housing costs, lingering inflation, and a stubbornly high poverty rate. Most of all, they worried about the rampant gun violence and high level of crime in the city, a couple of the pandemic’s disturbing legacies. 

In a January 2023 poll by The Lenfest Institute for Journalism, 88% of residents said that gun violence had a negative impact on the quality of life in their neighborhood, including 78% of Black residents who said they had heard gunshots in their neighborhood over the past year. Sixty-five percent of Philadelphians thought the city was going in the wrong direction. These findings tracked with similar results from Pew’s Philadelphia Poll in January 2022, and they highlighted a 26-point increase from 2019, effectively reversing residents’ views of the city’s trajectory.

Considering the crime statistics for the year, the Lenfest Institute poll results were hardly a surprise. In 2022, Philadelphia recorded 516 homicides, down marginally from the previous year but still among the city’s highest totals on record. Additionally, 2,255 people were shot, and 2,910 robberies with a gun were reported.

More broadly, the city’s count of major crimes, which includes both violent crimes and property crimes, rose to the highest level since 2006. In a single year, auto thefts increased by 30%, commercial burglaries by 40%, and retail thefts by 52%.

A view of one of Philadelphia’s major rivers in the foreground, framed by tree-lined banks, with the skyscrapers that form the city’s skyline towering in the distance.
Center city high-rises and skyscrapers sit behind the Schuylkill River.
Kriston Jae Bethel for The Pew Charitable Trusts

Throughout Philadelphia, many residents struggled to find suitable housing at an affordable price. Nearly 49% of the city’s households were spending at least 30% of their income on rent, making them “cost burdened” according to the standard set by the U.S. Census Bureau. Although housing costs in Philadelphia remained relatively low compared with other large cities in the Northeast, they were high for the nearly 23% of residents living below the poverty line ($25,750 for a household of four) and the tens of thousands more living just above it. Households in parts of West and North Philadelphia had the highest share of cost-burdened renters.

Although city life returned to something akin to pre-2020 conditions in some respects, many office employees were still working from home at least part of the week throughout 2022. At the same time, many of the policies that helped support people and businesses during the pandemic were disappearing. City regulations that had allowed restaurants to operate “streeteries”—outdoor dining structures located in parking lanes—were changed in ways that eliminated many of them. The federal waiver allowing residents to receive Medicaid coverage without applying for it every year lapsed as well, meaning that all 136,000 newly enrolled Philadelphians who received it since 2020 have to reapply this year.

TRUE OR FALSE?

Philadelphia’s unemployment rate rose slightly between 2021 and 2022.

TRUE OR FALSE?

FALSE. The unemployment rate fell by more than 3 percentage points between 2021 and 2022—from 9% to 5.9%. TWEET

QUICK QUIZ

35% of Philadelphians over 25 had a college degree in 2022. Is that below, equal to, or above the U.S. average?

QUICK QUIZ

The percentage of Philly residents over 25 with a college degree grew to 35% in 2022—matching the national rate. TWEET

Nearly 49% of Philly residents are “cost burdened,” per the U.S. Census Bureau. In other words, they spend at least 30% of their income on rent. TWEET

In 2022, Philly violent crimes and property crimes hit their highest levels since 2006: Auto thefts up 30% (vs. 2021), Commercial burglaries up 40%, and Retail thefts up 52% TWEET

As 2023 began, the year had the feel of a pivot point, with many questions about Philadelphia’s outlook yet to be answered. Among them:

  • Will the high level of homicides and gun violence drop? Concern about public safety dominated the public psyche, affecting the people directly involved in each deadly incident, their surrounding neighborhoods, and—increasingly—the city as a whole.
  • How will the city’s economy continue to adjust to post-pandemic conditions, with labor shortages in some sectors, a marginally declining population, and fewer people in Center City each weekday as office workers continue to do their jobs from home? Will Philadelphia keep attracting new residents, particularly those born in other countries, helping to maintain the city’s vibrancy? As Philadelphia’s economy adjusts, will economic growth be shared equitably?
  • With COVID-19 still posing a threat, albeit a diminished one, how well prepared is the city to resolve its remaining major public health challenges? In particular, with the city’s opioid epidemic as worrisome as ever, with an estimated 1,400 drug overdose deaths in 2022—the highest total recorded by the city—and with fentanyl and other dangerous substances permeating the drug supply, can Philadelphia’s public health systems get a handle on the crisis?

Amid unprecedented turnover in City Hall and in many civic and educational institutions, Philadelphia residents will be turning to a new crop of leaders to answer these and many other looming questions about the shape of post-pandemic Philadelphia in the months to come.

A line chart shows monthly unemployment figures for Philadelphia in 2022, with a high of 7.7% in January and a low of 4.5% in December. Despite a slight increase in unemployment from May to August, likely tied to a national inflation surge, the trend for the year was downward.
A line chart shows monthly job totals in 2022, trending upward, with the lowest figure in January (724,600) and the highest total in December (753,900). For the year, the city gained about 30,000 jobs.
A historically high number of people have been shot in Philadelphia since the start of the pandemic, with 2,255 shooting victims in the city last year alone. A line chart plots the number of shooting victims in the city, by month, in 2022. The chart shows a reported 189 shooting victims in January, an increase to 247 in June (the year’s highest monthly total), and a seasonal decline to 124 in December.

Demographics

A girl and a boy pose on the bright yellow steps of a corner store under a sign that reads: “Los Vargas Mini Market, Open 7 Days, Welcome.” To their left, in the background, a small group of adults gather, some seated in patio chairs and some standing.
A family gathers outside Los Vargas Mini Market in Hunting Park.
Kriston Jae Bethel for The Pew Charitable Trusts

Philadelphia continues to attract new residents, primarily immigrants, bringing fresh vitality to the city; nevertheless, persistent challenges—such as poverty—remain.

Continuing a trend that predated the pandemic, the city’s population is increasingly diverse, with nearly a quarter of residents speaking a language other than English at home—an increase of almost 2.5 percentage points since 2010. As of 2021, the percentage of Philadelphians identifying as Hispanic or Asian had nearly doubled over the previous 20 years, while the percentage of foreign-born residents increased to 15%, which was above the national average of 13.6%.

Poverty remained stubbornly high, at 22.8%, little changed from 2019 to 2021 despite the major influx of stimulus spending and the expanded federal child tax credit, which was discontinued after 2021.

Since 1990, Philadelphia’s ethnic and racial makeup has changed considerably. The most dramatic shift comes from the Hispanic and Asian shares of the city’s overall population, which have almost tripled. A horizontal bar chart shows that, from 1990 to 2021, the percentage of Asian people living in Philadelphia climbed from 2.7% to 7.5%, while the figure for Hispanic residents jumped from 5.6% to 15.9%. The percentage of non-Hispanic White people living in Philadelphia dropped from just over half (52.1%) in 1990 to roughly a third (33%) in 2021
A line chart shows poverty levels declining to various degrees for four different groups: Hispanic; Black, non-Hispanic; Asian; and non-Hispanic White Philadelphians. From 2011 to 2021, the poverty rate for Hispanic residents in the city dropped from 41.9% to 30%, but it was still the highest figure among the four groups. For Black residents, the poverty rate declined from 33.5% to 28.3%; for Asian residents, from 30.1% to 22.7%; and for White residents, from 16.8% to 12.6%. The poverty rate for the city’s Hispanic residents was nearly 2.5 times the rate for non-Hispanic White residents.

Figure 2.6

Top 10 Countries of Origin for Philadelphians Born Outside the U.S., 2021

Country Number of residents
China, excluding Hong Kong and Taiwan 23,893
Dominican Republic 19,662
India 12,529
Vietnam 11,719
Jamaica 11,091
Haiti 7,768
Mexico 7,544
Ukraine 6,473
Brazil 5,139
Cambodia 5,122

A table shows the top 10 countries of origin for foreign-born Philadelphia residents in 2021. China, excluding Hong Kong and Taiwan, had the greatest number of Philadelphians born outside the U.S.: 23,893. Cambodia was 10th, with 5,122. Fifteen percent of the city’s population is foreign-born, and most immigrants have origins in Asia and the Americas.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, five-year estimates, 2017-21, Table B05006 (Place of Birth for the Foreign-Born Population in the United States), http://data.census.gov

Education

Yellow cutout letters on a bulletin board spell: “Welcome Back to After School.” Above that, a white sign with red, blue, and gray letters reads, “What Inspires You?” An elementary school-age child stands in front of the signs, while another stands out of focus closer to the camera.
A board welcomes students back to after-school programming at Marian Anderson Recreation Center in the Graduate Hospital neighborhood.
Kriston Jae Bethel for The Pew Charitable Trusts

After two years of disrupted and mostly virtual learning, Philadelphia students returned to the classroom full time in fall 2022. The long-term impact of these pandemic-related learning interruptions remains to be seen.

But some preliminary data shows that preschool enrollment declined by 9 percentage points (or nearly 4,900 children), from 49.2% in 2019 to 40.1% in 2021. Enrollment in college, meanwhile, remained stable, with 48% of students who graduated from School District of Philadelphia-run high schools in 2021 enrolling in college that fall, a figure largely unchanged from 2020.

Census data for 2021 showed that 34.8% of Philadelphians age 25 or older held bachelor’s degrees, essentially the same as the national rate of 35%. This is the highest percentage on record for the city and represents an increase of 11 percentage points since 2011.

A line chart shows the rising percentage of city residents with a college degree. In 2011, 23.6% of residents held a degree; by 2021, that figure had climbed to 34.8%, which is essentially the same as the national rate of 35%. And for the first time, more than a third of residents age 25 or older have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Figure 3.6

Philadelphians’ Top 5 Occupations, 2021

By educational attainment

Educational attainment Top occupations
Less than high school (No diploma received) (Median income: $22,500) Manicurist and pedicurist
Driver/sales workers and truck drivers
Laborers and freight, stock, and material movers
Home health aides
Janitors and building cleaners
High school or high school equivalent (Diploma received) (Median income: $29,700) Nursing assistants
Laborers and freight, stock, and material movers
Retail salespeople
Home health aides
Driver/sales workers and truck drivers
Some college (No degree received) (Median income: $28,300) Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses
Personal care aides
Couriers and messengers
Customer service representatives
Cashiers
Associate degree (Degree received) (Median income: $39,000) Fast food and counter workers
Janitors and building cleaners
Registered nurses
Retail salespeople
Customer service representatives
Bachelor’s degree or higher (Degree received) (Median income: $59,500) Lawyers and judges, magistrates, and other judicial workers
Elementary and middle school workers
Postsecondary teachers
Physicians
Registered nurses

A table shows the top five occupations for each of five different education levels in Philadelphia. For those without a high school diploma, the top jobs include manicurists, laborers, and janitors. For those with a bachelor’s degree or higher, the top jobs include lawyers, postsecondary teachers, and physicians. Median income rises with educational level: It’s $22,500 for those without a high school diploma or equivalent but $59,500 for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Note: Residents with an educational attainment and an occupation that did not have wages listed in the census microdata were excluded from the median income analysis.

Source: Pew analysis of U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, Public Use Microdata Sample (2021 one- year estimates)

A vertical bar chart shows the percentage of graduating seniors in the School District of Philadelphia who go on to enroll in college. In the 2019-20 school year, 47% of all graduating students went to college; for students at criteria-based high schools, which set specific admissions criteria such as minimum GPAs, prerequisite classes, and attendance records, the figure was 78%; and for students at neighborhood high schools, the figure was 32%. In the 2020-21 school year, the figures were 48% for all graduating students, 80% for students at criteria-based high schools, and 32% for students at neighborhood high schools.

Government

A plume of water from Swann Memorial Fountain sprays skyward in front of City Hall’s central tower, which sits in the middle of several tall downtown buildings. Two pedestrians in casual attire walk on a crosswalk in heavy shadow in the foreground.
City Hall overlooks Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Center City.
Kriston Jae Bethel for The Pew Charitable Trusts

In 2022, the number of people working in Philadelphia’s city government dropped to the lowest level in more than a decade and was 8% lower than in 2019, the last full year before the pandemic. Because of the high number of vacancies, overtime spending reached 11.3% of the general fund, its highest level since 2008.

Thanks to all those unfilled positions, as well as better-than-expected revenue, Philadelphia’s fiscal health was strong. Tax revenue—especially for the real estate transfer tax and the business income and receipts tax— came in much higher than anticipated. As a result of those combined factors, the city ended fiscal 2022 with a $775 million fund balance. Philadelphia’s municipal pension fund balance was 57.6% funded, its highest level since 2004.

A pie chart shows the city government’s capital spending in fiscal 2023, when it allocated $3.86 billion for projects. The city’s Water Department received 31% of the total, or about rich-text__embed l-rte-full.2 billion. Another 22%, or $874 million, went to the Streets Department, much of it for sidewalks and accessible ramps throughout the city.
A pair of pie charts compares the city’s sources of revenue in fiscal 2020 and fiscal 2023. In fiscal 2020, the last budget drafted before the COVID-19 outbreak, the city’s wage tax accounted for 46% of revenue; by 2023, as more people worked from home, that figure had dropped to 41.3%. The business income and receipts tax, by contrast, increased from 13.7% of revenue in 2020 to 15.7% in 2023. The real estate transfer tax also increased, from 9.3% of revenue in 2020 to 10.4% in 2023.
A map of the city broken down by ZIP codes shows the median residential property tax liability in 2023. Lighter shades of brown indicate, in West and North Philadelphia, lower tax rates; darker shades, found near Center City and around Chestnut Hill, indicate higher tax rates. In 2023, the city’s median residential property tax liability was ###PLACEHOLDER###,020.

Health

A woman wearing a light-blue surgical mask, glasses, and a purple-and-blue shirt reaches high for a blue plastic container in a room lined with medication-filled pharmacy shelves. She holds prescription pill bottles in her other hand.
A staff members pulls prescriptions from a shelf inside Esperanza Health Center’s dispensary in Hunting Park.
Kriston Jae Bethel for The Pew Charitable Trusts

As 2022 progressed, the pandemic stopped feeling like one of the major issues facing Philadelphia.

For the year, the city reported more than 150,000 cases of COVID-19 and 1,000 deaths from the virus—but most were recorded early on. By the fall, most mask mandates had been dropped, more workers were returning to their offices, and Philadelphians were experiencing a nearly post-pandemic life.

Other health-related data showed an estimated 1,400 drug overdose deaths in Philadelphia in 2022—the most recorded in a single year by the city, and the highest overdose death rate among the 10 cities compared in this report. Meanwhile, 21% more Philadelphians were enrolled in Medicaid last year than in 2019, and the percentage of residents lacking health insurance, 7.2%, was the lowest since 2017. Infant mortality rates and births to mothers ages 19 and younger also continued their decades-long decline.

A horizontal bar chart shows the leading causes of death in 2020, with heart disease at the top of the list for Philadelphians, followed by cancer and COVID-19. Heart disease claimed 4,052 lives in 2020, while cancer took 3,071 and COVID-19 took another 2,473. Overall, nearly 18,200 city residents died in 2020, approximately 3,900 more deaths than in other recent years.
A horizontal bar chart shows the percentage of residents without health insurance in 2021 for Philadelphia, nine comparison cities, and the U.S. as a whole. Philadelphia’s rate of 7.2% is lower than the national average of 8.6%. At 24.5%, Houston has the highest percentage of residents without health insurance. Boston has the lowest, at 2.9%.
A line chart shows enrollment in Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) from 2012 to 2022. Enrollment in Medicaid rose sharply, climbing from 517,135 city residents in 2012 to 785,480 in 2022. Enrollment in SSI fell slightly, from 111,263 in 2012 to 96,938 in 2021, the last year for which figures were available. From 2019 to 2022, Medicaid enrollment increased by 21%, covering nearly half of the city’s population.

Housing

A four-story building with vertical rectangular windows is wrapped in a blue layer over exposed wood walls. A chain-link fence, partially covered by black cloth marked with graffiti, surrounds the residential building.
A new residential building is undergoing construction on the corner of 21st and Tryon streets in the city’s Fitler Square neighborhood.
Kriston Jae Bethel for The Pew Charitable Trusts

After years of rapidly rising prices, the housing market cooled in 2022.

Although home sales increased by 33%, prices rose only 1.9% for the year as a whole and were declining in the second half of the year, according to a study from Drexel University’s Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation. Additionally, the number of building permits fell by 88% because of several factors, including changes in the 10year tax abatement program and higher interest rates.

Meanwhile, for renters, affordability remained a concern. The share of renters who paid 30% or more of their income in rent was still slightly higher than the national average. To address affordability concerns, the Municipal Court’s Eviction Diversion Program was extended into 2024, and the Philadelphia Housing Authority has cleared the waitlist for its Housing Choice Voucher Program to accept new applicants.

A line chart shows homeownership trends from 2011 to 2021. Unlike other cities in the Northeast, Philadelphia has more homeowners than renters, and the chart shows the numbers of both groups increasing during this period. In 2021, the city had 348,935 owner-occupied and 311,986 renter-occupied households.
A horizontal bar chart shows the share of renters who spend more than 30% of their income on rent and utilities, a threshold long used as a measure of housing affordability. At 48.9%, Philadelphia comes close to the national average of 47.4% of renters who spend 30% or more of their income on housing. Washington has the lowest rate, at 45.1%, while Detroit has the highest, at 54.1%.
A line chart shows homeownership trends by race and ethnicity from 2006 to 2021. Asians have the highest homeownership rate, at 62.3%, while Hispanics have the lowest, at 48.6%. Among non-Hispanic White households, the percentage who owned their homes slid from 64.3% in 2006 to 57.2% in 2021, although their overall homeownership rate remained comparatively high.

Jobs and the Economy

A man wearing a red apron hands a platter of Mexican food to a group of people seated around a table. He holds two other plates of food in his left hand.
Javier Rios, co-owner of the Mole Pablano, serves a table outside his South Philadelphia restaurant.
Kriston Jae Bethel for The Pew Charitable Trusts

In a year of high inflation, Philadelphia’s job market and the economy showed strong growth.

As of December 2022, Philadelphia had an estimated 753,900 jobs, an increase of about 30,000 from a year earlier. And in the final four months of 2022, Philadelphia had an unemployment rate below 5%, something that had not happened in at least a decade.

For the year, employment in every major sector of the local economy expanded, with the exception of government—whose number of occupied positions fell by 1%. The size of the leisure and hospitality sector continued its post-pandemic rebound, with 24% more jobs in 2022 than in 2021, although the numbers were still below pre-pandemic levels. And Philadelphians’ median income increased to $52,899 in 2021, the latest year for which data was available, up 11% since 2019.

A map of the city broken down by ZIP codes shows median household income in 2021. The highest-earning areas were in Center City and Northwest Philadelphia. The lowest income figures were in North and West Philadelphia. The largest percentage increase, 51%, was recorded in the Kensington/Fishtown and East Falls areas.
A vertical bar chart shows median household income by race and ethnicity in 2019 and 2021, with the figure for all households advancing from $47,474 in 2019 to $52,899 in 2021. Median income was $78,010 in 2021 for non-Hispanic White households, compared with $38,289 for Black or African American households. Hispanic households had a median income of $44,795, a 38% increase from 2019.
A horizontal bar chart shows the labor force participation rate in 2021 for Philadelphia and nine comparison cities, and the national average. The participation rate, which measures the percentage of people who are employed or actively looking for work, was 75.3% for Philadelphia, compared with 77% nationally and 81.9% for the top comparison city, Washington. In 2019, the city’s participation rate was lower, 71.5%, and the national rate was nearly 4 percentage points higher.

Public Safety

A white police SUV with its lights on is stopped in the middle of a city street. Blurred yellow police tape stretches across the front of the photo.
A Philadelphia Police Department vehicle is parked at an intersection in Center City.
Kriston Jae Bethel for The Pew Charitable Trusts

In 2022, violent crime and homicides declined slightly but remained at historically high levels.

For the year, Philadelphia recorded 516 homicides, down from 562 in 2021 but still among the highest totals in its history. Never before had the city experienced two consecutive years with at least 500 homicides and 2,000 shootings.

While polls, such as the 2023 Lenfest Institute for Journalism survey, have shown crime and public safety to be Philadelphians’ top concerns, the city’s police department has been grappling with a large number of vacancies, struggling to find qualified candidates to fill those positions.

A line chart shows the number of homicides in the city from 2012 to 2022. The number was as low as 246 in 2013, but it has climbed most years since then, more than doubling to 516 reported homicides in 2022. The 2022 figure was 8% lower than in the previous year, but it was still among the highest annual totals on record.

Figure 8.7

Homicide Motives in Philadelphia, 2022

Argument 36.2%
Retaliation 17.2%
Drugs 15.1%
Domestic 8.9%
Highway robbery 6.8%
Other 6.2%
Undetermined 5.8%
Child abuse 1.9%
Residential robbery 1.2%
Commercial robbery 0.4%
Sexual 0.2%

A table lists motives for homicides in 2022. An argument was cited as the cause in 36.2% of homicides, followed by retaliation (17.2%) and drugs (15.1%). In 2018, drugs were cited as the motive in 37% of homicides, making them the leading cause, but now drugs are the third-leading motive in killings, according to police.

Note: All figures are based on preliminary Philadelphia Police Department crime data and are subject to reclassification upon further investigation. The department changed its protocols in 2018 to classify fewer motives as “undetermined.”

Source: Philadelphia Police Department

A line chart shows the city’s jail population dropping sharply from 2012 to 2022. The average daily jail population in 2022 was 4,429—a 50% decline since 2013, when the figure was 8,932. The city has made a concerted effort to reduce its jail population in recent years and, as of December 2022, 36% of inmates were being held pretrial, compared with about 80% in 2016.

Transportation, Infrastructure and the Environment

A bird’s-eye view of the city’s main airport, with several airplanes parked at its gates as the sun sits low in the sky.
Philadelphia International Airport
Courtesy of Philadelphia International Airport

Philadelphia’s transportation sector continued to recover in 2022, although public transportation usage remained below pre-pandemic levels.

SEPTA ridership rose by 37% for the City Transit division and by 99% on Regional Rail from 2021 to 2022. Even so, for the last six months of 2022, ridership throughout the system was only 52% of 2019 levels. Philadelphia International Airport, meanwhile, had 113% more passengers in 2022 than in 2020. Yet last year’s passenger total was still 7.7 million short of pre-pandemic levels.

Philadelphia did not experience a single day with unhealthy air in 2022, a vast improvement from a decade ago, when 28 days of unhealthy air were recorded. The previous low had been two days, reported in 2021. 9

A line chart shows mass transit ridership from 2012 to 2022, with a large drop attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ridership slumped 48.4% from 2019 to 2022 on SEPTA’s City Transit Division and nearly 60% on SEPTA’s Regional Rail system. Ridership on the PATCO high-speed line dropped 56.2%.
A vertical bar chart shows the number of days with unhealthy air from 2012 to 2022. The graphic goes from the decade’s high of 28 unhealthy days in 2012 to zero days in 2022. The pandemic-related decline in travel may have contributed to the city’s improved air quality.
A vertical bar chart shows the number of complaints about trash and recycling collection from 2016 to 2022. The number of complaints peaked at 47,732 in 2020, when collections were sometimes delayed because of the pandemic. The figure dropped to 27,091 in 2022, marking a second straight year of declines.

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