Take a look at the introductory post for more details about this series.
So far in this series, I have briefly established that there is an exceptionally high poverty rate in Philadelphia, and that this poverty is incredibly unequally distributed. Certain regions, particularly in North and West Philadelphia, have poverty rates of over 50%. Others have poverty rates as low as 4%.
I will go into more depth with those points, but for now I want to take a different turn. I want to show that Philadelphia’s economy is doing very well when we take a look at broader numbers. In sum, there is a huge amount of wealth and income, despite widespread poverty.
According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, Philadelphia’s GDP in 2016 was more than $431 billion (in 2018 USD). If Philadelphia were a country, it would have the 27th largest economy in the world, coming in just below Thailand and just above Iran.
Three Fortune 500 companies are headquartered in Philadelphia: Comcast, Aramark, and Crown Holdings. Alone, they have over $200 billion in assets and had a revenue of over $100 billion in 2017. Other large companies include Five Below, FMC, Sunoco, and Urban Outfitters.
Philadelphia is also home to several large universities, including, Drexel University, The University of Pennsylvania, and Temple University. Along with large universities, the city has a vast healthcare presence. This includes the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Independence Blue Cross, and many other university-affiliated hospitals.
Despite all of these prosperous companies, Philadelphia’s economic statistics for everyday people do not look good. They are improving, but continue to lag far behind national numbers.
First, the unemployment rate is finally decreasing again, but remains more than twice the national rate. Below is data I pulled from the American FactFinder database.
Likewise, incomes are the highest they’ve been since just before the Great Recession, and they’re increasing dramatically every year. But the median household income is still about $20,000 lower than the national number.
The poverty rate also remains incredibly high, and has only changed very slowly. This is certainly no indication of prosperity in the region, but its gradual decrease does show that economic conditions are improving.
All of our major indicators show that conditions are improving, especially since the Great Recession, but remain far worse than the nation’s economic conditions. This is likely to be especially true for the worse off neighborhoods that I examined earlier (and will come back to).
How is it possible that Philadelphia is a hub of economic activity, and yet has such large amounts of poverty, such low wages, and such high unemployment? I suspect it is because most of the people who work in higher paying positions live just outside of the city in the much wealthier suburbs. Those who live in the city and work at these companies most likely live within the wealthier neighborhoods. Since they are relatively few, they’re easily absorbed into the broader statistics.
This is just my hunch based on personal experience. My next post will explore this topic.