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While some aspects of the recession did not hit the Philadelphia hard – for instance, real estate prices did not take a dive here – the city has emerged from the economic downturn if not wiser, then certainly poorer.
Stories about the pain caused by the recession can be found in every neighborhood, but when it comes to numbers the best source is the U.S. Census Bureau.
Each year, the bureau does a survey of millions of Americans to find out basic information about their lives. It is called the American Community Survey. Think of it as a detailed poll with a huge sample. Like all polls, it has a margin of error, but it provides the best snapshot available of the nation, the states and local communities.
The ACS for 2012 was released last week. I compared some of the data to the ACS of 2007, the year before the recession began, to get a before and after comparison.
Here is the takeaway:
— The number of people who are poor increased substantially. In 2007, the census counted 333,000 persons living in poverty. In 2012, there were 405,000. This is an increase of 72,000 people, a huge jump. The poor are always with us in Philadelphia, but the number had been stable, ranging from 310,000 to 340,000 during the last 25 years. Beginning in 2008, though, it took a huge leap and climbed until it reached a peak of 423,000 people in 2011. If there is any consolation, these latest numbers show a decline.
— Income has stagnated. During the recession, while some fell into poverty, other households went from two workers to one, people saw hours cut or wages frozen. As a result, median household income declined. It was $39,400 in pre-recession 2007, using inflation-adjusted numbers. It was $36,000 in 2012. This decline in household wealth hurt those at the bottom of the income ladder most . Viewed in the aggregate, Philadelphia is a majority poor/working class city, with 63 percent of households earning under $40,000 a year.
— Lack of jobs is a persistent problem. It’s almost hard to believe, but in pre-recession 2007, our unemployment rate was a low 4.3 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Up and up it went during the recession, reaching a peak of 8.1 percent in 2012. So far this year, it has averaged 7.4 percent. Again, another sign the economy is kicking back into gear, albeit a low gear.
— Not everyone was a loser. Some Philadelphian’s escaped the recession without a scratch; they kept their jobs, their income rose. The number of households with income of $100,00 or more a year, increased from 62,000 in 2007 to 75,000 in 2012, the census says. That is a 22 percent rise. These numbers are not adjusted for inflation.
— The number of foreign-born immigrants continued to increase. The recession did not stop the inflow of immigrants from Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe. We had 161,300 foreign-born residents in the city in 2007. This rose to 185,000 as of 2012, a 15 percent increase. In terms of racial mix, the immigrant population is: white (34%) and Asian (34%), black (22%) and Latino (16%).
I don’t want to make this a litany of bad news. Despite the downturn, “Eds and Meds,” the city’s biggest economic sector continued to grow and add jobs. Recently, new construction — frozen at a standstill as of 2008 — has resumed, with new commercial and residential projects underway. Center City is beginning to see a revival of its retail sector, as Carla Robinson reports in our new centerpiece.
To mention one more trend, it is hard to know if this is an effect of the stress families underwent during the recession or some other broader demographic forces at work, but the number of married-couple families declined 11 percent between 2007 and 2012: it went from 165,000 to 153,000.
As of last year, the number of married- couples with children and households headed by a single or divorced parent were roughly equal: 154,319 couple-headed families vs. 153,561 single-parent families.
When it comes to families with young children — those under 18 — single-parent households are in the majority. There are 73,000 single-parent households with children under age 18, compared to 56,000 mother-father families.
This is not a surprise because Philadelphia has a high incidence of out-of-wedlock births. The census tells us that 60 percent of the women who gave birth in 2012 were unmarried.
In sum, in terms of economic effects, the worst appears to be over. But no one wants to see a rematch of this fight.