Philadelphia Is.

Amy Smith looks at the mixed messages in a recent report about the state of Philadelphia. While the job market is struggling, the housing market gives reason to hope.

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The Philadelphia Research Initiative, a PEW Charitable Trust project, published a 2010 update to last year’s report, Philadelphia 2009: State of the City. The report follows key indicators of urban vitality including population growth, poverty rate, job availability, crime statistics, and home prices. The Philadelphia Research Initiatives’ earlier studies have covered such topics as Philadelphia’s 311 system and the cost of employee benefits. This most recent report praises Philadelphia for its progress – in population and test scores increases – while exposing sharp impediments to future growth – a high poverty rate and limited job growth. Here I concentrate on two sections of personal interest.

The Philadelphia Job Market: a challenge

As a junior at the University of Pennsylvania, I am particularly attuned to the state of the current job market. Summer is quickly approaching and Penn juniors are eager to find internships. March has been a grueling month of sending out cover letters and resumes into a seemingly empty void, from which there are hardly any replies. One dear friend has all but given up on her job search and seems to be relinquishing her near-future to last minute contacts, luck, and the inexplicable powers of the universe. Another friend put in a hefty late-March effort and sent out fifty applications in a single day. Stress sets in. Parents preach patience and point to the struggling job market.

The State of the City report reinforces the structural cause of our panic. Philadelphia lost 11,500 jobs in 2009 alone. The remaining 651,000 jobs are a record low in the city’s modern history. In December, the unemployment rate was at a high 10.6%.

And worse: whole sectors of the job market are collapsing. Mining and construction jobs have declined by 21% and manufacturing by 41%. Fields of particular interest to my peers, such as information, government and finance, are also struggling. These markets shrunk by 26, 12 and 18 percent respectively. However, jobs in education and health services are strong; the market expanded by 17% in 2009. Meanwhile, in my dorm, we wonder how to match economic trends to our diverse interests – English, anthropology, even marketing.

Philadelphia Housing: an urban strength

There is considerable inconsistency across neighborhoods, but the median Philadelphia home price has increased by 4% overall. Strong communities surround Penn’s campus: the percent change in median home price in University City, Center City West, and South Philadelphia near the Schuylkill River was 41%, 55%, and 53% respectively in 2009. My favorite running haunts – Clark Park, Woodlands Cemetery, and Kelly Drive – weave through these vivacious neighborhoods. I see smiling joggers, bikers, walkers, watchers, children and dogs as I run past. The constant activity can be a wonderful distraction through the many miles.

However, Fairmount North and both the eastern and western portions of North Philadelphia experienced severe decreases in home sale prices. In North Philadelphia – West, home sale prices changed by -76%. Philadelphia’s housing market is layered with good and bad.

I – a student, a runner – found great information in this 2010 update. What will you find?

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