Strict Standards: Declaration of C_DataMapper_Driver_Base::define() should be compatible with C_Component::define($context = false) in /nas/content/live/axisphilly/wp-content/plugins/nextgen-gallery/products/photocrati_nextgen/modules/datamapper/class.datamapper_driver_base.php on line 609
Strict Standards: Declaration of C_DataMapper_Driver_Base::initialize() should be compatible with C_Component::initialize() in /nas/content/live/axisphilly/wp-content/plugins/nextgen-gallery/products/photocrati_nextgen/modules/datamapper/class.datamapper_driver_base.php on line 609
Strict Standards: Declaration of C_Displayed_Gallery_Mapper::define() should be compatible with C_CustomPost_DataMapper_Driver::define($object_name, $context = false) in /nas/content/live/axisphilly/wp-content/plugins/nextgen-gallery/products/photocrati_nextgen/modules/nextgen_gallery_display/class.displayed_gallery_mapper.php on line 4
Strict Standards: Declaration of C_Displayed_Gallery_Mapper::initialize() should be compatible with C_CustomPost_DataMapper_Driver::initialize($object_name) in /nas/content/live/axisphilly/wp-content/plugins/nextgen-gallery/products/photocrati_nextgen/modules/nextgen_gallery_display/class.displayed_gallery_mapper.php on line 4
Tom Wolf has emerged as the winner of the Democratic gubernatorial primary and will run against Gov. Tom Corbett in November, and to be honest, I’m not excited about either man’s ability to improve Philadelphia’s fortunes significantly.
The problems our city faces are inextricably linked to its 26.9 percent poverty rate—the highest among the nation’s 10 largest cities. The conditions that created such impoverishment did not happen over the last four years. They happened over the course of generations.
That fact hasn’t stopped us from blaming Corbett, who is viewed favorably by just 30.8 percent of Pennsylvanians, according to the latest polls. Nor has it stopped us from embracing an unknown like Wolf, who won nearly every county in the Democratic primary, handily beating three rivals.
Of course, those numbers can be deceiving, since only 14 to 17 percent of eligible voters actually bothered to cast ballots in this latest election.
Perhaps voters don’t care that Corbett is against taxing the natural gas industry while Wolf supports doing so. Maybe Pennsylvanians were following their tradition of skipping off-year elections. Or maybe voters, particularly Philadelphians, don’t believe a governor alone can solve the intractable problems we face.
The latest State of the City report from the Pew Charitable Trusts paints a statistical picture of Philadelphia that is in turns hopeful and gloomy. On the hopeful side, Philadelphia’s population has grown for seven consecutive years, reaching 1,553,165 residents in 2013. The population growth has spurred investment, with developers receiving building permits for 2,815 units of new residential housing valued at $465 million.
The new residents are largely young, upwardly mobile and well educated. Some are empty nesters who left for the suburbs and returned to the city in their later years. Both populations have the potential to form the building blocks of a fiscally stable city. But the gap between the two demographics represents a problem that has plagued Philadelphia for decades.
Young, upwardly mobile families tend to leave the city when they have children, because they don’t believe Philadelphia is a good place to raise a family. Unfortunately, the numbers in the Pew report and beyond seem to back that assertion.
The schools are in disarray. The $304 million structural deficit that haunted Philadelphia’s schools in 2013 was patched, but the schools are facing a $216 million budget hole for the coming year. District-run schools are steadily losing students to publicly funded charter schools. There was a 6 percent drop last year alone—the largest percentage of students the district-run schools lost since 2000.
Unemployment is rampant. Though there were an estimated 3,800 new jobs in Philadelphia last year, the job market in the city remained sluggish. The 2013 unemployment rate in the city was 10.3 percent, as compared with the 8 percent rate for the Philadelphia Metropolitan Area, which includes Bucks, Chester and Montgomery Counties. According to the Pew report, Philadelphia’s unemployment rate fell in the closing months of 2013, which could mean people either found work in the suburbs, or stopped looking for work altogether.
Crime is an issue. The 247 murders that took place in Philadelphia last year represented the lowest total since 1968. But the city’s 17,000 violent crimes—these include homicide, rape, aggravated assault and robbery—is above average for a city its size. How does Philadelphia compare with the suburbs? In Montgomery County, on the city’s northern border, there were only 52 murders over the three-year period from 2008 through 2010.
Philadelphia is a fine place for young professionals who are seeking the convenience and excitement of an urban environment, but once those residents begin to raise children, they leave. And who can blame them? These new young residents don’t have an emotional connection to the city, and when faced with the sobering reality of raising children in an unstable city and school system, they choose the relative stability of the suburbs.
Those who stay are savvy enough, educated enough, and economically stable enough to take advantage of the best the city has to offer in terms of housing and education. That’s fine for those families, but it doesn’t solve the underlying issues that are driven by Philadelphia’s main issue—poverty.
The poor are most affected when the School District is underfunded, because they are the ones whose children remain in the worst schools. The poor are most affected by high unemployment, because the city’s 26.9 percent poverty rate overlaps with the 19 percent of Philadelphians without high school diplomas. The poor are most affected by crime, because they live in the neighborhoods where violence is rampant.
Perhaps a new governor can change the funding formula for schools, tax the natural gas industry to provide steady income, or work with state legislators to create job training programs that lead to actual employment.
But even if a governor can do all those things, it still won’t be enough. Unless a new governor can bring jobs to Philadelphia’s poor, thus lowering the crime rate and addressing unemployment, we won’t be able to convince new Philadelphians to stay and raise their children. We won’t be able to convince those who leave to come back before they retire. We won’t be able to retool our school system to benefit both poor and rich.
If we are serious about digging out from the mess that poverty has created in our city, we must make it a place where people will raise their children and families will stabilize communities.
Doing so is not the governor’s job. It’s ours.