Every few months, another one comes out. Another grim statistic about the immense divide between those who have and those who have not in Philadelphia.
It’s there in the life-expectancy statistics my colleague Al Lubrano wrote about three years ago, the ones showing that kids growing up in Fairhill had lower life expectancies than kids in Iraq and Syria. And how kids in Strawberry Mansion could expect to die 20 years before kids in Society Hill.
It’s there in the city health reports from January, which found that black Philadelphians bear the brunt of almost every health disparity — or health injustice — in our city. They’re 10 times more likely to die by homicide than white Philadelphians, as my colleague Aubrey Whelan reported. Black babies are three times as likely to die before their first birthday than white babies. And black men had the worst life expectancies of any population in the city.
That’s borne out in a startling new story by Lubrano, who reported that Philadelphia has the lowest number of men per 100 women of any big city in the country. On the surface, this could sound like a harmless bit of trivia — 90,000 more women than men in the city. But the roots of the Philly gender gap are just as insidious as everything else driving inequality in our city. Mass incarceration. Racism. Poverty. Our stunning homicide toll. Poor access to health care.
And the stress of living life in a city where a huge chunk of the population feels as if they’re just expected to slog through underpaying jobs in neglected neighborhoods with the specter of violence hanging over them.
It will come as no surprise, given these inequities, that most of Philadelphia’s “missing men” are black — lost to incarceration, violence, or early death from natural causes. The kind of natural causes that weigh more heavily on Philadelphians who can’t afford to treat them early.
This column has often been about the polish of Center City contrasted against the pain that still stalks our most vulnerable neighborhoods. I’m reminded of it again and again when I’m reporting — like last month, when I went to the Kensington street where 2-year-old Nikolette Rivera was shot and killed in her mother’s arms, over a drug dispute involving her father.
Thinking back, my decidedly unscientific door-knocking survey of Water Street pointed to the gender gap in microcosm. Of the dozen people I talked to, almost all were women. And nearly all had lost a man in their life to gun violence. Or to prison. Some of their kids, they said, were following the same path.
That’s the city we live in. You visit a block where a child was killed, and there are few men there — alive or free — to mourn her.
Two Philadelphias, we always call it. The shiny new one, and the Philadelphia that lies in the shadow of all the best-of lists and Heritage Cities designations. We call the one in the shadows the “other” Philadelphia. But it is the overarching reality of our city. Center City is really the other Philadelphia.
The neighborhoods that carry the weight of all those grim statistics, whose residents die younger, more violently, whose lives are shortened by ill health and stress — that is Philadelphia. That’s our city. That’s our narrative. And until we place that reality in the forefront of any progress in this city, we are failing. We are failing them. We’re failing ourselves.