Philly Created More Jobs in 2018 Than in Any Year Since 1969

That’s according to the Center City District’s annual State of the City report. But the CCD’s findings aren’t all good news.

State of the City report

The CCD has just released its annual State of the City report. Sean Pavone | iStock

The Center City District released its annual State of the City report on Tuesday morning. As always, it’s a useful compendium of statistics that tell the story of where Philadelphia is at the present. But at 76 pages — packed full of stats and graphs — the CCD’s findings aren’t exactly what you’d call a riveting coffee-table read. We’ve combed through the report so you don’t have to. Here are three important statistics, and what they mean for the city.

Philly Created 15,400 Jobs in 2018

Translation: That’s up from 10,700 in 2017, and more job growth than any year since 1969 — when the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics first began compiling such information. There’s more economic good news. Post-recession Philly has added jobs every year since 2009 for a total of 71,000, amounting to the largest period of sustained job growth since the end of World War II.

But underneath the rosy text is the troubling fact that 25 percent of the city remains in poverty, second only to Detroit among the 25 biggest American cities. More troubling still, Philly’s growth — prolific though it may seem — is in fact lagging behind. The rate of private-sector job growth among big cities is 2.3 percent; ours is only 1.5 percent. And then you have to consider that, with respect to jobs, Philly remains in the shadow of where it once was. The CCD notes there are 21 percent fewer positions in Philly now than there were in 1970. By comparison, Boston — which lost a similar proportion of 1970s manufacturing jobs — has now boomeranged back to having 26 percent more jobs than in the ’70s.

Job division is also starkly divided by neighborhood. While 83 percent of all American adults aged 25 to 54 either have a part-time or full-time job, in North Philly, only 49 percent of the population is part of the workforce — compared to 90 percent of those in Center City, and 75 percent of Philly as a whole. In other words, despite Center City being a hub for jobs across the entire city, the employment opportunities still aren’t reaching everyone. “Philadelphia needs to commit not only to its public schools,” the CCD report concludes, “but also to comprehensive tax reform to grow jobs citywide.”

Developers Constructed 12,640 Housing Units in 2018

Much like with job creation, the statistics of Philadelphia housing belie an underlying illness. The city is indeed producing more housing units, ostensibly a sign of a strong economy. But the fundamental question is: Who is the housing for? Of the city’s 685,000 housing units, only 33,000 are publicly subsidized affordable units. (Another 100,000 Philly households are located in areas that have naturally occurring cheap housing.)

A recent report produced by the Kenney administration notes that from 2008 to 2016, the city lost 13,000 low-cost housing units, while the stock of high-cost units increased by 6,000. Meanwhile, according to Pew Charitable Trusts, 54 percent of Philly residents spend about a third of their income on housing — above the national average of 50 percent, and more than any similar-sized city except Detroit, which you’ll recall is also the only city with a higher poverty rate than Philadelphia. It’s hard not to think there’s some connection between these figures and the report from March that Philly is among the nation’s most gentrified cities.

For many years, CCD president Paul Levy has proposed an elixir for the city’s ills in the form of a shift in the tax code that would target properties more than wages. “We have a tax incentive to leave the city at this point,” Levy says, especially for those who live in Philly but work in the suburbs, and are still required to pay the city wage tax. That’s borne out by the data: In 30 percent of Philly zip codes, mostly on the edges of the town, population is decreasing.

For what it’s worth, Levy does support at least one form of property tax break: the city’s controversial tax abatement program. That, Levy argues, both spurs construction in the short-term and property tax revenue in the long run.  He also praises the recent agreement between City Council and the Kenney administration, in which properties with expiring abatements will now help fund affordable housing to the tune of $80 million over the next five years.

Public Transit Shuttles 300,000 People Downtown Each Week

It’s a popular citywide pastime to bash SEPTA for things like its old maps or (until recently) its old-school payment system. But the fact is, SEPTA is critical to the economic fabric of the city. One million Philly suburbs residents live within a mile of a SEPTA station, and 47 percent of Center City workers commute from outside the city. The Market-Frankford and Broad Street Lines carry the brunt of inbound passengers to the downtown — some 46 percent of transit commuters. Those commuters constitute a considerable sum of Philly workers: More than 40 percent the city’s workforce gets to their job without a car.

That the city’s transit system is such a literal economic shuttle is both an advantage and a vulnerability. A recent lawsuit against the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission — one of SEPTA’s big funders — had reduced the agency’s funding and halted virtually all of its ambitious improvement projects. Even though the suit was dismissed earlier in April, it will likely be appealed, further threatening the agency’s funding until the case’s final disposition, which could be years away.

Among the more surprising transit statistics in the report: Some 40 percent of Philly residents “reverse commute” from the city to the suburbs, traveling upstream against the typical current in which suburbanites journey into the city to work. To the CCD, this is yet another indication that the city’s job growth is underperforming. And it’s another chance to point the finger at the wage tax. “Regardless of where a city resident works, their employer is obligated to withhold the full Philadelphia wage tax,” the report states. “Thus, the commute to the suburbs carries with it a tax incentive to move to the suburbs.”

This is all to say that, as usual, the CCD report is something of a mixed bag. As Levy sums it up: “The simple thing is, we’re doing well. We ought to be doing much better.”

You can read the full report at your leisure here.