Economic Segregation Alive and Well in Philadelphia

New study concludes the Philly metro area is among most segregated by class in the nation.

Economic Segregation

Different worlds.

Philadelphia is among the most economically segregated big metro areas in the nation, ranking eighth worst of 51, according to a comprehensive new analysis by urban researchers Richard Florida and Charlotta Mellander. The analysis places the Philadelphia region just above Chicago on a bottom 10 list that also includes Los Angeles, New York and four big Texas cities including Austin, which is rated as the most economically segregated metro area in the nation.

Probably the most interesting takeaway from the analysis—which considered not just income but also educational and occupational forms of segregation—is that, nationally, the rich are more segregated than the poor. As Florida and Mellander write:

It is not so much the size of the gap between the rich and poor that drives segregation as the ability of the super-wealthy to isolate and wall themselves off from the less well-to-do. The Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel has dubbed this phenomenon the “skyboxification” of American life…

The substantial and growing gap between the rich and everyone else is not just an economic divide—it is inscribed on our geography. While there have always been affluent neighborhoods, gated enclaves, and fabled bastions of wealth like Newport, East Hampton, Palm Beach, Beverly Hills, and Grosse Pointe, the people who cut the lawns, cooked and served the meals, and fixed the plumbing in their big houses used to live nearby—close enough to vote for the same councilors, judges, aldermen, and members of the board of education. That is less and less the case today.

This trend is surely playing out at some level locally, but seemingly in not quite so pronounced a fashion as in other metros. The analysis used several different measures to create an economic segregation “index,” including segregation of both a region’s poor and wealthy populations. Poor people in the Philadelphia metro are highly segregated: out of the nation’s 51 biggest metros, Philly ranked third on the list, right between Hartford and Cleveland. That’s ugly, but it tracks with the metro we know, with highly concentrated poverty in places like Camden and the city of Chester and large swathes of Philadelphia.

But in terms of wealth segregation—that’s the skyboxification effect—the Philadelphia region ranks as the 24th most segregated metro of the 51 largest. That’s not to say that the area lacks super-rich, isolated enclaves (cough, Gladwyne, cough), but it does suggest the bigger problem locally remains extreme concentrations of poor people.

Check out the full report below.

Segregated City