The last 10 years have been a period of historic job growth for Philadelphia.
But a closer look at the kind of jobs Philadelphia is adding shows that the majority of the growth has been in the low-wage sector, paying $35,000 a year or less, according to a new Center City District report. That makes Philadelphia an outlier among the 25 biggest cities in the United States, which have added a larger share of “family-sustaining jobs,” those paying between $35,000 and $100,000, the report says.
The report focuses on a level of nuance that’s often lost in congratulatory press releases and political speeches about job growth. Jobs — all jobs — are good, according to conventional wisdom, and cities must add them at all costs. But the Center City District report illustrates the contrary: Not all jobs are created equal.
Philadelphia’s status as a high-growth market for low-wage jobs has consequences for the entire city, the report says. Recent college graduates leave the city to find jobs. People working low-wage jobs don’t have a pathway to move into a family-sustaining job.
For context, someone who works 40 hours a week for $15 an hour — a wage that many cities and states have adopted as their minimum — makes about $31,200 annually.
The report suggests a few possible explanations for this phenomenon, including that employers can’t find the workers they need in Philadelphia so they stay in the suburbs, and that it’s prohibitively expensive to locate in the city.
Possible solutions, then, include business tax reform and improving public education.
The report doesn’t suggest, however, upgrading these low-wage jobs, a recommendation that urbanist Richard Florida recently championed in a report about achieving “inclusive prosperity” in Philadelphia.
“A key pillar of inclusive prosperity must be to upgrade current low-paying, precarious service jobs into higher-paying, more-secure and stable, family-sustaining work,” the report says.
“The best way to reduce poverty and to support schools and services is not to raise local taxes more, but to accelerate private sector job growth, add more family-sustaining jobs and expand the city’s tax base,” says the Center City District report.
Upgrading low-wage jobs is also something labor organizers have sought to do through laws like Fair Workweek, which seeks to give more stable hours to service workers, and the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, which aims to grant labor protections to nannies and house cleaners. Unions, too, have fought to improve the nature of low-wage work by fighting for higher wages, job security, and more affordable health care, but with just 6% of the private-sector workforce unionized, these gains don’t reach most Philadelphians.
The Inquirer is one of 21 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice. See all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org.