Report

Philadelphia in Focus: A Profile from Census 2000

Executive Summary

Across several social and economic indicators, Census 2000 reveals that Philadelphia confronts significant challenges in creating opportunity and prosperity for its residents.


The Philadelphia region continues to decentralize, to begin with, further separating inner-city residents from employment and economic activity. While the population of Center City revived in the 1990s, population loss elsewhere in the City of Philadelphia was widespread. To be sure, Philadelphia actually gained black, Asian, and Hispanic residents in the last decade, many of them new immigrants from abroad. But at the same time it lost 180,000 white residents. Jobs also continued to shift outward in the metro area, and today fewer than 30 percent of the region’s workers are employed in the central city.

As the economic strength of the urban core dissipated in the 1990s, Philadelphia’s residents struggled economically as well. Household incomes dropped significantly, and the size of the city’s middle class declined. Poverty rose, and Philadelphia now has the highest Hispanic poverty rate among the 23 Living Cities. These economic challenges are rooted in the city’s low rates of higher educational attainment and adult labor force participation. One area in which Philadelphia remains unique is the high number of residents who own their homes; unfortunately, the city’s homeownership rate declined significantly over the decade. At the same time, over 100,000 city households—most with low incomes—struggle to afford rent and the other necessities of life.

Along these lines and others, then, Philadelphia in Focus: A Profile from Census 2000 concludes that:

  • The Philadelphia metro area continued to decentralize in the 1990s amid slow growth region-wide. Between 1980 and 2000, the City of Philadelphia lost 10 percent of its population. During the same period, the region’s suburbs grew modestly, but the locus of that growth shifted far from the core. In the 1990s, neighborhoods in Center City and Near Northeast Philadelphia gained residents, but population loss continued throughout the remainder of the city and in nearly all inner suburbs. Today, only 30 percent of the region’s residents live in the central city, and only 30 percent are employed there—most Philadelphia-area workers commute from suburb to suburb.

  • The city’s population is growing more diverse. The transformation of Philadelphia from a majority-white city in 1990 to a “majority-minority” city in 2000 was fueled by modest increases in the city’s black, Hispanic, and Asian populations, and a dramatic 180,000-person decline in white residents. International immigrants also contributed to the changing profile of the city and region. The number of foreign-born living in Philadelphia increased by 34,000 in the 1990s, and more than twice as many settled in the suburbs over the same period. Nearly half of Philadelphia’s foreign-born are U.S. citizens, and they hail from a variety of world regions, including Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Caribbean. Still, people of different races and ethnicities tend to live in very separate parts of Philadelphia; the city ranks highest in the nation on segregation between whites and Hispanics.

  • Philadelphia’s population is aging. In most of the 23 Living Cities, people in their twenties and early thirties represent the largest age groups. Philadelphia, by contrast, has nearly as many 35- to 44-year-olds as it does members of younger age groups. In addition, Philadelphia is second only to Miami among the 23 Living Cities in the proportion of residents who are age 65 and over. The aging of Philadelphia’s population reflects in part the city’s limited success in attracting newcomers—the number of 25- to 34-year-old residents dropped 19 percent during the 1990s. Meanwhile, the city’s children are also growing up in more disadvantaged environments, as today most Philadelphia households with children are single-parent families.

  • Philadelphia residents have relatively low educational attainment, and participate only weakly in the labor market. Only 56 percent of working-age adults in Philadelphia were employed or looking for work in 2000—the fourth-lowest percentage among the 100 largest cities in the U.S. These low levels of work may reflect not only a growing distance between inner-city Philadelphia residents and job opportunities elsewhere in the region, but also the low education levels of Philadelphia’s population. Only 18 percent of Philadelphia adults hold a college degree, one of the lowest levels among large U.S. cities. Indeed, below-average rates of educational attainment cut across racial and ethnic lines in Philadelphia, affecting whites, blacks, and Hispanics.

  • Household incomes in Philadelphia dropped during the 1990s and the middle class shrank. Low- and moderate-income households increased in number in Philadelphia during the 1990s, but the number of middle- and upper-middle-income households (earning $34,000 to $81,000) declined. As a result, the city’s median household income dropped over the decade, and ranked in the bottom quarter of large U.S. cities in 2000. In several neighborhoods, more than 40 percent of all residents live in poverty, and Philadelphia has the highest Hispanic poverty rate among the 23 Living Cities.

  • Philadelphia remains a high-homeownership city, although the rate declined significantly over the decade. Nearly 60 percent of Philadelphia households owned their own homes in 2000, the second-highest rate among the Living Cities. Yet this rate dropped considerably during the 1990s, in contrast to the trend of rising homeownership in cities and the nation over the decade. The weak housing market in many inner-city Philadelphia neighborhoods may also have limited the economic benefits of homeownership. And while rent prices in Philadelphia actually declined over the decade, 100,000 Philadelphia renters have incomes low enough that they pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

By presenting indicators like these on the following pages, Philadelphia in Focus: A Profile from Census 2000 seeks to give readers a better sense of where Philadelphia and its residents stand in relation to their peers, and how the 1990s altered the city, its neighborhoods, and the entire Philadelphia region. Living Cities and the Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy hope that this information will prompt a fruitful dialogue among city and community leaders about the direction Philadelphia should take in the coming decade.

Philadelphia Data Book Series 1

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