Philly’s economy is growing but more people are dying from heroin and homicides

Pew Charitable Trusts released their 2018 State of the City report.

 People cross a street near a construction site on Market Street in Center City, Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

People cross a street near a construction site on Market Street in Center City, Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

A booming local economy marked by strong job growth, population gains and a formidable housing market hasn’t reduced the share of Philadelphians living in poverty or losing their life to drugs or violence, according to Pew Charitable Trusts’ 2018 State of the City report.

“There’s always a sort of a mixed picture, but we thought this year it was a particularly clear pattern,” said Larry Eichel, director of Pew’s Philadelphia Research Initiative. “The economic indicators are mostly positive; the social measures, considerably less so.”

Philadelphia’s population continued its steady growth last year, growing by 6,000 residents and marking 11 straight years of positive gains. Immigrants largely drove that increase — between 1990 and 2016, the immigration population doubled to about 232,000. Today, roughly 15 percent of Philadelphians were born outside the U.S, according to the annual report, released Thursday.

For the second year in a row, Philadelphia’s job growth outpaced the nation’s. Philadelphia saw a 2.3 percent increase in jobs in 2017, compared to just 1.6 percent across the U.S. The city’s monthly average of 715,900 jobs is a considerable step up from 699,600 in 2016 and is the highest since 1991.

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While the city’s unemployment rate of 6.2 percent remains above the national and regional rates of 4.4 and 4.7 percent, respectively, it still fell 0.6 percent from 2016, a bigger decline than seen nationally and in the metro area.

The growth in jobs and residents helped fuel a healthy housing market — the number of home sales increased around 3,000 to 20,818, and the Department of Licenses and Inspections issued 3,389 building permits. Both figures approximately match pre-recession highs.

But there are some troubling trends in the State of the City. Philadelphia’s poverty rate remains stubbornly high: 25.7 percent in 2016. While the rate has steadily declined since 2011’s high of 28.4 percent, the improvements have been painstakingly slow, even as the city’s economy seems to be growing with relative rapidity. Eichel couldn’t explain the disconnect.

“I really don’t [know,]” said Eichel. “This is something that policymakers are very concerned about.”

Homicides also increased in 2017 to 317, a considerable jump over 2016’s 277 total and a recent low of 246 in 2013. Still, it wasn’t all that long ago when homicides regularly tallied over 400. “If you look from the broad range of history, the rates aren’t that high,” said Eichel. “But compared to where they’ve been the last few years: up substantially.”

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Eichel noted that overall crime figures have remained steady, while the number of shootings has fluctuated, making it more difficult to say whether last year’s high murder rate was a statistical fluke or a more troubling sign of returning violence.

Perhaps most troubling are Philadelphia’s totals for unintentional drug overdose deaths. In 2017, an estimated 1,200 people overdosed and died in the city, a huge jump over 907 in 2016 and 696 in 2015. Philadelphia witnessed 46 overdose deaths per 100,000 residents in 2016.

Pew releases the State of the City report every year. In odd-numbered years, Pew releases longer, more in-depth reports. For even-numbered years, like this one, the reports are shorter updates.

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