City

These 5 Stats Tell the Story of Philadelphia Over the Past Decade

And also provide a map for where the city still needs to go.


philadelphia skyline

/ Getty Images

As the year winds down, we thought we’d take a look back at not just this past year, but the past 10 years — the 3,641 days, the 5.2 million minutes — from 2010 to 2019. It’s easy to think qualitatively about how the city seems to have grown, how we’ve emerged as a national destination. (If National Geographic says it, it must be true.)

But the quantitative tells us an important story, too. These are five stats that help us understand where Philadelphia is right now — and might also suggest where we still need to go.

24.5 Percent

That’s the percentage of Philadelphians below the poverty level, as of 2018. The cycle of deep poverty has been a focus of the Kenney administration for years, and the Nutter administration before that. So how did they do? In 2008, the poverty rate totaled 24.1 percent. The rate increased in the years following the Great Recession, topping off at 28.4 percent. Sure, it’s declined over the past few years to its current level, but that’s hardly worth celebrating. Philadelphia remains the place with the highest poverty rate among the nation’s 10 largest cities.

There’s no one solution to reduce such a complex problem, but the Kenney administration has been smart to make education a pillar of its policy. The mayor has made considerable progress, taking local control back from the state and passing the soda tax to fund pre-K. And when it comes to educational attainment, the four-year high school graduation rate for the class of 2019 reached 69 percent, a full 12 percentage points higher than it was a decade earlier.

But it’s also worth remembering this: Nationwide, the average graduation rate is 89 percent. And education is but one part of the solution. It’s a start, but to make a dent in that 24.5 figure going forward, Kenney will have to succeed with his near-term solutions, too.

5,517

That’s the number of opioid overdose deaths between 2010 and the first quarter of 2019. The opioid epidemic is a more recent crisis than the preceding one, but no less acute. From 2010 to 2016, the overdose total every three months hovered around 100 people. By the end of 2016, the number had ballooned to 250, where it’s stayed more or less consistent ever since.

That the number of opioid deaths has yet to decline is perhaps the best evidence one could offer in support of a more radical solution. The eventual fate of Safehouse, the proposed safe-injection site that a judge recently ruled does not violate federal law, will be one of the biggest stories to follow in the coming year. At this point, it seems a given that some American city, somewhere, is going to open a safe-injection site. Philadelphia doesn’t get too many chances to act as a leader on the national stage; here’s a chance for the city to do just that.

412,849

For a stretch of time during the 2010s, it was popular to cite the growth in the city’s millennial population as a prime indicator of Philadelphia’s resurgence. A Pew report proudly noted that from 2006 to 2014, no city’s millennial population increased at a higher rate than Philadelphia’s. And as of 2018, there were 412,849 Philly residents between the ages of 25 and 39, according to the most recent census data.

But there’s some reason to reconsider the rosy millennial picture. Even though Philadelphia’s population continues to increase, 60,000 people also leave the city each year. (In fact, among people already living in the U.S., more people leave Philly now than move here; the population growth is entirely attributable to immigration.) Half of those who leave are millennials.

Maybe this has something to do with it: More than 50 percent of renters here spend at least 30 percent of their income on housing, which the federal government considers “housing cost burdened.” Philadelphia isn’t exceptional in this respect among peer cities, but it signals an opportunity: Find a way to increase city wages, and Philly could jumpstart a similar boom among young people that it experienced in the first part of this decade.

890

That’s the number of patents issued to Philadelphia institutions and inventors in 2019 — up from 474 in 2009. You might take that as a sign of Philadelphia’s budding hub as a center of biotech research. (Indeed, Jim Wilson, the cell therapy researcher at Penn, had the second-highest number of patents of any individual this year.)

Yet in spite of that growth, Philadelphia still lags behind many peer cities. (In 2019, Atlanta had more than 2,500 patents.) That was the takeaway of a recent Brookings Institution report that decried the stagnating “innovation economy” across the entire state of Pennsylvania.

But the good news for Philadelphia is that the research infrastructure already exists. The next task is to expand it beyond cell therapy. Decisions like the one by the Kenney administration to create a collaborative center for climate change are a step in the right direction.

15.2 million

This decade is almost over. If we want to survive for future ones, we had best start paying attention to numbers like this one: Philadelphia’s total carbon emissions, in metric tons of CO2, in 2016.

Even if the world were able to shut off carbon emissions tomorrow, cities like Philadelphia would experience fundamental changes due to climate change. To stave off the worst effects, national governments are going to have to take action.

But, as we outlined in our November cover story, there’s plenty a city can do to take the lead against climate change as well.

Bonus Round: 1

Times the Eagles won the Super Bowl. Sometimes the lowest number is still the best.