Families With Children Continue to Leave Philly, Pew Study Finds

A new Pew Philadelphia Research Initiative report says the migration patterns of households with children "appear to validate concerns about families leaving the city… due to the ongoing problems of the public school system."

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Center City continues to be the leading destination for those moving to Philadelphia from outside it. | Photo: iStockphoto.com

More Philly families with school-age children are leaving the city than moving into it still, according to a new Pew Philadelphia Research Initiative analysis of migration patterns in Philadelphia.

At 45 percent of the total number of households moving out, families with children under 18 make up the largest single group of out-migrants. By contrast, only 28 percent of households moving into the city had children under 18. Households with children under 18 account for 48 percent of all households citywide.

While the census did not ask people why they came to or left Philadelphia, the report states that “these numbers appear to validate concerns about families leaving the city… due to the ongoing problems of the public school system.”

Among those arriving in Philadelphia and those leaving it, college graduates and non-Hispanic whites were overrepresented compared with their presence in the city as a whole. African-Americans were less likely than members of other groups to move in or out.

The report, A Portrait of Philadelphia Migration: Who is Coming to the City­–and Who is Leaving, uses census data from 2011 through 2013 and migration data from the Internal Revenue Service, which tracks year-to-year address changes by individuals who file tax returns, to provide county-by-county information about the sources and destinations of Philadelphia’s domestic migrants in 2013.

Building on migration research done by Pew in 2010, this new report not only focused on where the people were going but also on the people themselves by categorizing data by their age, race, education, and household type.

“One of the limitations of the IRS data is that it doesn’t give you a sense of how old these people are and what kind of places they live in,” says Larry Eichel, project director of the Philadelphia Research Initiative and the author of the report. “In detailed census data you can get that. It’s good to know the numbers but it’s [also] important to know who they are.”

The report changed its focus partly because the “IRS changed their methodology, and as a result we couldn’t make some of the comparisons from the aggregate data as we’ve done in the past,” Eichel continues. “In order to make it more accurate, we had to look at other things to supplement the report.”

While it’s not surprising that more people born in the United States are still leaving Philadelphia than are arriving, as is also the case in most other large U.S. cities, it is significant that the new arrivals have been gravitating towards the core of the city, Eichel says. The largest share of them, 23 percent, moved into Center City and surrounding neighborhoods, an area that accounts for only 9 percent of Philadelphia’s overall population. And perhaps more surprisingly, Eichel notes, the majority of newcomers, 38 percent, were ages 18 to 24, and more than two-thirds of the newcomers in that age group were enrolled at an educational institution.

What happened to those who left? A bare majority of the people moving stayed in the 11-county metropolitan area or the counties just outside it. In 2013, 50.2 percent of the people leaving Philadelphia went elsewhere in the 11-county metropolitan area, and 49.8 percent left the region. The most popular destination for those leaving the region entirely was New York City, followed by Travis County, Texas, home to the technology hub and state capitol of Austin.

Philadelphia’s population continued to increase overall since the last study due to a combination of births outnumbering deaths and immigration from abroad, but the increase is smaller than it was the last time around as a downward trend in net domestic out-migration reversed.