Philly jobs market bounced back but business bankruptcies start to creep higher since COVID-19

Pew Charitable Trusts in Philadelphia has been tracking economic indicators related to the COVID-19 pandemic for the past three years. Here’s what they found.

A view of the Philadelphia skyline from the 52nd Street station on the Market-Frankford elevated line in West Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

A 2019 view of the Philadelphia skyline from the 52nd Street Station on the Market-Frankford Elevated line in West Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The city of Philadelphia has recovered all the jobs lost during the COVID-19 pandemic three years ago but there are some negative trends on the horizon as some businesses continue to struggle with higher debt and even bankruptcy, according to data compiled by Pew Charitable Trusts.

In March 2023, there were 763,300 non-farm jobs across the city, which is 3.8% higher than in March 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Some industries have recovered stronger than others. The finance and insurance sector has 13% more jobs but the accommodation and food services sector is still 3.3% lower compared to March 2019, data shows.

“It’s important to remember that sector [accommodation and food services] actually was one of the most vibrant, fastest growing sectors the city had before the pandemic,” said Thomas Ginsberg, a senior officer with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Philadelphia research and policy initiative. “It was a real strong point and it took a huge hit, just like everywhere in the country.”

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About 5.2% of businesses across Philadelphia were more than 30 days delinquent on their bills during the first quarter of this year. That’s roughly how many businesses were late on bills during the first quarter of 2020 which is an improvement from the peak of nearly 7% in fourth quarter 2020, Experian data analyzed by Pew shows.

But 8.7% of companies in the finance and insurance sector were more than 30 days late on their bills during the first quarter of this year. That’s a significant increase of roughly 4% in the first quarter of 2020.

Businesses across the city are also carrying higher credit balances, as the median balance has grown to $3,300 during first quarter 2023 compared to $2,600 in first quarter 2020, Experian data shows.

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During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government allocated billions in economic stimulus to keep both unemployed workers and struggling businesses afloat. But that relief money has run out.

“That provided the cushion that helped stave off bankruptcies and help keep bankruptcies historically low during the pandemic,” Ginsberg said. “And now that crisis lifeline is not there anymore.”

There were seven Philadelphia businesses that filed for bankruptcy in March, the highest monthly total since early in the pandemic. It’s a far cry from a major spike in late 2020 when 72 businesses filed for bankruptcy. And it’s not reflective of all companies that have simply shut down.

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