Pew report finds that Philly continues to struggle, despite pandemic bounce back

A Pew Charitable Trusts report shows that Philadelphians are re-engaging in city life but concerns regarding public health, housing, and safety still remain.

A look down a busy city street in Springtime.

Chestnut Street in Center City Philadelphia (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Coming out of the worst of the pandemic, Philadelphia is showing promising signs of civic re-engagement in public urban life, according to “Philadelphia 2023: The State of the City,” a new report from Pew Charitable Trusts. But the city continues to struggle with issues related to safety, public health, and income disparities.

The nonprofit’s annual report, released Wednesday, offers an overview of the city’s well-being in key areas, including the economy, municipal services, employment, safety, and health, among others.

The report shows that more Philadelphians have been commuting to work, while indoor restaurant dining and public event attendance has increased since the COVID-19 pandemic began – echoing the optimistic findings of a report from the Center City District last year.

In 2022, Pew Charitable Trusts’ report shows that Philadelphia saw an increase of around 30,000 jobs – up from 724,600 in January to 753,900 in December – a 6.7% uptick.

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“That’s nearly two and a half percentage points higher than national job growth during the same period,” said Pew Charitable Trusts project director, Katie Martin. “Jobs increased in all sectors except for government, including a 24% growth in leisure and hospitality, which is one of those sectors that was really hit hardest and most directly by the pandemic.”

Meanwhile, Philadelphia’s unemployment rate – previously above 12% in 2020 and 9% in 2021 – stayed below 8% throughout 2022. The city ended with a monthly unemployment rate last December of 4.5%, which is “the lowest monthly unemployment rate in Philadelphia since 1990,” said Martin.

“To put that into context, in April 2020, right at the beginning of the pandemic, our unemployment rate reached 17.1%.”.

Despite the area’s growth, Martin said, the Pew report illustrates “a mixed story” of a city that is facing significant challenges regarding public health, safety, and welfare. Because the data also paints “a devastating picture of communities who are struggling with poverty and affordable housing.”

In 2021, the city’s median household income rose to $52,899 – an 11% increase since 2019. The average median income for Black and African-Americans communities, though, was $38,601 compared to $78,010 for White non-Hispanic households.

“For the top third of residents, [median income] has gone up 22%,” Martin said. “For the bottom third, it’s basically a flat 6% over 15 years. Even for middle-income residents, it’s only increased marginally by about 13%.”

Equally concerning, Martin said, is that gun-related crimes have increased “dramatically.” Between 2020 and 2022, there was a 58% increase in the number of reported robberies with a gun.

Many of them have been deadly: In 2022, there were 516 reported homicides in Philadelphia (whose number one motive was an argument), a slight decrease from the 562 reported in 2021.  This was the first time, the report points out, that the city experienced two consecutive years of over 500 homicides (and over 2,000 shootings – there were 2,255 shooting victims last year alone).

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For the sixth straight year, Pew’s data shows, more than 1,100 reported drug overdose deaths occurred in Philadelphia. In 2022, roughly 1,400 drug overdose deaths were recorded,  Philadelphia’s highest total ever.

“The impact that that has on residents is vast. Whether or not this trend is going to continue depends on what happens with the drug supply [and] with how Philadelphia responds to the ongoing epidemic,” said Martin.

Overall, she said, the report is sobering.

“At this unprecedented time of the city returning to life, a new leadership on the horizon, Philadelphians are expressing more pessimism about their city than ever before. It makes clear that we need to explore how positive gains can be shared equitably by all Philadelphians.”

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