Philadelphians Seem Super Bullish on Philly, Until You Look Closer

A Pew survey finds attytoods vary dramatically among four broad groups of Philadelphians.

Photo by Morgan Burke, Creative Commons license.

Photo by Morgan Burke, Creative Commons license.

On the whole, would we rather be in Philadelphia?

That depends on who “we” are. A survey just released by the Pew Philadelphia Research Initiative defines that “we” in a new way.

Instead of grouping Philadelphians by the usual statistical categories like income, race, geography, age or political persuasion, this survey breaks them down into four broad categories based on their attitudes about the city and its prospects.

The citywide numbers suggest Philadelphians as a whole are feeling good about their city. According to the survey, about 65 percent of residents think that “the city’s best days are ahead,” and 48 percent agreed that Philadelphia is headed in the right direction. Overall, just 33 percent said the city was on the wrong track. Compare that to the national mood; a depressing 65 percent think the U.S. is on the wrong track.

But those topline numbers oversimplify Philadelphia’s mood, as Pew’s survey shows.

The 1,605 randomly selected residents (who were statistically weighted to reflect the city’s demographics) were asked a battery of questions. Pew examined the responses and concluded the data showed there were four distinct groups of Philadelphians.

Two are clearly bullish on the city; together they account for 44 percent of city residents. Another is fed up with Philadelphia and would leave it if they could; at 30 percent, that group represents the largest single group of residents in the survey. The fourth group, accounting for one-quarter of all Philadelphians, is on the bubble: there are things about the city they like but others that they don’t, and they could just as soon leave as stay.

Here’s the skinny on each of the groups:

The Dissatisfied Citizens (30 percent of all Philadelphians) are the most likely to believe that the city’s best days are behind it and the least likely to recommend living here to friends. More than half of them (53 percent) say the city is on the wrong track, the highest percentage of the four groups who say this. They are less trusting of the police than the rest of the city; only 42 percent say that the cops treat blacks and whites equally. They also believe the fix is in at City Hall; 61 percent said that race is a major factor in determining the policies and decisions of city government. They live in bad neighborhoods too: 61 percent rated their neighborhoods as fair or poor, and 60 percent said they don’t feel safe going out at night.

They are more likely to be poor and poorly educated — 62 percent make $30,000 or less each year, and the same fraction have no more than a high school education. Even the not-poor in are struggling to get by: 97 percent say they don’t have enough money to make ends meet. A bare majority of them, 51 percent, are black; 30 percent are white and 14 percent are Hispanic. They’re overrepresented in North Philadelphia, where 27 percent of them live. Very few want to stick around—only eight percent said they hoped to spend the rest of their lives here—but many of them appear to be stuck here anyway: 65 percent have lived here all their lives and another 19 percent have lived here for at least 30 years.

Somewhat less bearish are the Uncommitted Skeptics. They’re the second-most-likely group to say the city is on the wrong track (44 percent) and the least connected to it emotionally: even though 58 percent of them rated the city as a good or excellent place to live, 97 percent of them say that they’d find it easy to leave Philadelphia, and only 43 percent see themselves still living here in ten years. Much of their skepticism is directed at city government: 63 percent agreed with the statement that city officials are more interested in helping their friends and associates than their constituents, and only 23 percent said that almost all police do their jobs properly.

Larry Eichel, director of the Pew Philadelphia Research Initiative, said that he was most surprised to learn that there were as many Uncommitted Skeptics as there were. “They like the city in some ways, but they see some problems with it,” he said. “They are generally young, well educated, and fairly well off.” They’re younger on average than the city as a whole, with 44 percent of them between the ages of 18 and 34, but their racial breakdown looks like Philadelphia: 43 percent are black, 39 percent white and 10 percent Hispanic. They’re better educated than the Dissatisfied Citizens: 62 percent have attended college and 28 percent hold bachelor’s degrees. They’re doing ok financially: 24 percent of this cohort earns between $50,000 and $100,000, and 95 percent say they can make ends meet. One other way to look at that? They probably can afford to leave, if the circumstances are right. As 35 percent of them live in the Northeast, it might not be surprising to learn that 77 percent of them say that too much attention is being paid to Center City.

The most enthusiastic Philadelphians, the Diehard Loyalists, account for another 25 percent of the city. Like the Dissatisfied, a high percentage of them are longtime residents (79 percent have lived here at least 30 years or their whole lives), but unlike them, they want to remain residents: a whopping 95 percent of them, the highest percentage of any group, say they hope to remain here the rest of their lives and 93 percent see themselves here for at least the next 10 years. The group is older than the other three; half its members are over 50.

They’re also fans of city living, with 66 percent saying they prefer it. On the traditional “liberal-conservative” spectrum, this crowd is the backbone of the city’s liberal political tradition, as more of them say both that the city is not doing enough to help the poor and and that unions help Philadelphians get the wages and benefits they need (66 and 64 percent respectively). While they too generally agree with the statement that immigrants are good for the city (something all four groups agreed with by large margins), five times as many Diehard Loyalists said the city should help keep longtime residents around than said it should attract new ones.

The racial demographics of these most happy Philadelphians are also close to those of the city as a whole: 42 percent are white and 41 percent are black, with 10 percent Hispanic. They tend to be less well educated than other residents, with 58 percent not getting past high school. And while they’re not affluent, they’re not as hard up as the Dissatisfied; 47 percent call themselves middle class, another 29 percent say they’re lower middle class, and 78 percent of those who reported income said they earned $50,000 or less.

The Enthusiastic Urbanists, the other group that’s bullish on the city, is the most affluent, best educated, and smallest of the four groups, representing only 19 percent of Philadelphia. Almost as many of them say the city’s best days are ahead of it (75 percent) as do Diehard Loyalists (81 percent), and 68 percent of them say the city is headed in the right direction, edging out the share of Diehard Loyalists who say this by two points. Their enthusiasm for the city is strong — 85 percent rate it a good or excellent place to live — but their attachment to it is weaker than one might suspect: only 52 percent said they saw themselves spending the rest of their lives here and 45 percent said they’d find it easy to leave.

Seventeen percent of this group lives in Center City, the highest share among the four groups. Whether or not they live there, they agree by a 3-1 ratio that Center City holds the key to Philly’s future.

Their support for lower business taxes flows naturally from that focus, with 70 percent agreeing that they would help the city attract jobs. A bigger share of them, 39 percent, hold bachelor’s degrees than any other group, but they’re relative newcomers, with 22 percent having lived here 10 or fewer years. Their income distribution is something of a U-shaped curve: more of them make at least $100,000 annually than any other group (22 percent, far above the 9 percent citywide share), but 32 percent reported making $30,000 or less a year. They’re far whiter than the city as a whole too: whites make up 59 percent of this group, blacks 25 percent, and Hispanics 8 percent. There’s also a surplus of testosterone among them, as 59 percent are men.

Are there any things these disparate groups agree on? Yes. They generally agree with the Diehard Loyalists that unions help Philadelphians get the wages and benefits they need and that immigrants are a net plus for the city. And all groups say the same three issues—K-12 education, jobs and public safety—are the most important ones facing the city. But they split down the middle on taxes, with roughly equal numbers of all groups saying either that they’d willingly pay more in taxes in exchange for more services  or they’d prefer lower taxes in exchange for fewer services.

As for what all this means for policymakers, well, Pew isn’t in the business of making recommendations. They give us the facts and leave it up to us to decide what to do with them. But given that even many who say they’d be willing to leave in a heartbeat nonetheless say this is also a great place to live, and that more than half of all Philadelphians agree with me that this place is underrated, there’s room to grow more Enthusiastic Urbanists and Diehard Loyalists, especially if we can address the grievances of the Disaffected Citizens and convince the Uncommitted Skeptics.