Solutions to North Philly’s poverty level: New initiative aims to connect more North Philadelphians to employment

The Lenfest North Philadelphia Workforce Initiative will bring together more than a dozen collaborating partners in an effort to reduce the 9% unemployment rate in the area.

Attendees during the first meeting of the Lenfest North Philadelphia Workforce Initiative (Jensen Toussaint/AL DÍA News)

Attendees during the first meeting of the Lenfest North Philadelphia Workforce Initiative (Jensen Toussaint/AL DÍA News)

This article originally appeared on Al Día. Lea en Español.


“Let’s get some people employed,” said Wes Somerville, director of the Lenfest Foundation.

That was the message given during the first official meeting of the Lenfest North Philadelphia Workforce Initiative.

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The initiative is a flagship effort aimed at breaking the cycle of poverty that exists for many North Philadelphia residents.

North Philadelphia is home to roughly more than 275,000 residents — approximately 18% of the city’s total population — with an overall employment rate of 43%. The employment rate in North Philadelphia lags far behind the rest of the city, which is at 54%.

The 43% of North Philadelphians who are employed earn an average of $25,000 annually, which is significantly lower than the citywide median annual earnings of roughly $42,500.

According to Philadelphia Works, Inc. research, North Philadelphia residents suffer from a higher unemployment rate (9%) than their counterparts from other areas in the city (4.9%).

The overarching mission of the workforce initiative is to connect all North Philadelphia residents to sustainable job opportunities.

However, it was found that access to opportunities differs for some residents, due to a variety of pre-existing factors.

As a result, a team of community stakeholders and business leaders set out a list of priority populations and target areas within the North Philadelphia community who are most vulnerable. These populations include: noncitizens and immigrants; English as a second language individuals; people with a disability; benefits recipients; returning citizens; veterans; and opportunity youth, defined as individuals ages 16 to 24 who are neither in school nor working.

“We hope that we can create the kind of opportunities… that can move the needle on the workforce system in the city of Philadelphia,” Rev. Danny Cortés, senior vice president and chief of staff at Esperanza, said of the initiative.

As part of the initiative, partners have also outlined the best practices for workforce development that can yield the most advantageous outcomes for job seekers, employees and employers. These practices include employer engagement, community engagement, career advancement, sharing of resources and information, and broad access to supportive services.

Holistically, this initiative will aim to connect North Philadelphia residents to sustainable job opportunities by addressing both individuals who are working-aged, out of work, and having trouble staying employed, as well as those who are employed, are earning low wages or have limited opportunities to advance into jobs that pay family-sustaining wages.

“While there are challenges, North Philadelphia has a rich history, community assets and resources, and a vibrant culture that can help people connect to sustainable job opportunities,” Shirley Moy, executive director of Temple’s Lenfest North Philadelphia Workforce Initiative, said in a statement.

This summer, the Lenfest Foundation provided $2.6 million to help get this initiative, announced in March 2018, moving forward.

There are currently 16 collaboration funding partners for the Lenfest North Philadelphia Workforce Initiative: Big Picture Philadelphia, Called To Serve CDC, the Center for Employment Opportunities, Community Integrated Services, Congreso de Latinos Unidos, District 1199C Training and Upgrading Fund, Electrical Association of Philadelphia, Esperanza, JEVS Human Services, the Maternity Care Coalition, Mental Health Partnerships, the Philadelphia Housing Authority, Project HOME, the Steppingstone Scholars, Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians and YouthBuild Charter School.

This article is part of Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project among more than 20 news organizations, focused on economic mobility in Philadelphia. Read all of our reporting at

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