In Philadelphia, an inclusive economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic will require a robust increase in jobs—particularly in what economists call “middle-wage jobs,” positions that pay enough to sustain a family and that have historically been available to people without college degrees.
The Pew Charitable Trusts recently researched the pandemic’s impact on the city’s economy and found that job losses sustained in Philadelphia were heavily concentrated in industry sectors that pay low and middle wages—and those losses hit Black, female, and non-college-educated workers the hardest.1 In addition, employment locally continues to recover more slowly than nationally, with the number of jobs in the city still well below pre-pandemic levels as of July 2022.2
Pew has defined middle-wage jobs as those paying within 20% of the median city wage—that is, from $18.61 to $27.92 per hour as of 2019, or roughly $39,000 to $58,000 annually.3 By that definition, about 145,000 people who work in Philadelphia, or 23% of the city’s workforce, held middle-wage jobs during the five-year period leading up to the pandemic.
To help local policymakers and civic leaders keep a close eye on the middle of the wage distribution, this issue brief details the specific occupations paying middle wages in Philadelphia, explores their growth prospects, and compares Philadelphia’s performance with that of five other cities and their broader metropolitan areas: Baltimore, Nashville, New York, San Francisco, and Washington. These comparison cities were selected because they share characteristics with Philadelphia and have municipal boundaries compatible with the methodology used for this analysis.
Among the key findings of the research:
- Occupations paying middle wages in Philadelphia vary widely, but the largest number are in office and administrative support, including customer service representatives, administrative assistants, and office clerks. However, recent trends in Philadelphia, which mirror national projections, point toward continued job losses for that group.
- Occupations with high growth projections in Philadelphia that already provide substantial quantities of middle-wage jobs are in health care support and community and social service.
- In Philadelphia, the strongest recent middle-wage job growth has been in educational instruction, management, construction, and health care support jobs.
- Philadelphia has fewer middle-wage jobs compared with the overall size of its workforce, making those jobs harder to find in this city than in the comparison cities.
- In addition, middle-wage jobs are less common in Philadelphia simply because the city has comparatively few jobs overall. Among the six cities studied in this report, Philadelphia is the only one with a lower number of jobs per capita than its metropolitan area overall.
- Middle-wage job growth relies on overall job growth, not on specific sectors. Different economic sectors employ middle-wage workers at roughly similar rates. For that reason, changing the sector mix may not substantially increase the number of middle-wage jobs.
The occupations in Philadelphia that pay middle wages
One can look at middle-wage jobs by industry sectors or by occupations.
Figure 1 looks at job categories in Philadelphia, with the length of the bar showing the number of middle-wage jobs in each category and the percentage indicating the share of jobs in each category that pay middle wages.
The largest number of jobs, 24,590, are in office and administrative support, followed by management, and then educational instruction and library—primarily teaching jobs.