Each September, communities across the country mark the end of summer by celebrating Labor Day and the importance of work and workers to our country. This year, as we stop to remember the role good jobs play in supporting families and strengthening our city, it is important to keep in mind that not all workers are doing well. For every headline about a national shortage of workers and record employment, there are 10 stories of communities that are plagued by stubborn unemployment and poverty.
That is certainly true here in Philadelphia. While the city is growing and thriving overall and downtown high rises are filling with new residents, Philadelphia has the highest level of poverty and of deep poverty of any big city in the country — both of which are growing.
How can the city be thriving overall while poverty is increasing?
There is a simple explanation: While jobs and population are up overall, they are localized and too many neighborhoods struggle with a lack of investment, chronic low employment, and poverty.
The solution to this problem, however, is anything but simple. That’s why business and labor are working in partnership to reduce poverty by focusing on inclusive, neighborhood growth across the city.
This partnership is far from unprecedented. Our Chamber of Commerce and building trades have a long and successful history of working together to build our modern Philadelphia. From the ports to our airport and from hotel to bridge and transit projects, our partnership has created countless jobs, wealth, and prosperity for citizens across the city and region.
Now we are united to focus on how best to address poverty in Philadelphia. We believe that to confront our city’s stubborn poverty, we must increase the number of good, high-wage jobs in every neighborhood and achieving that requires different things in different neighborhoods. Some communities may require increased job training, others improved safety, and others still transportation options. All will require a tax and regulatory system that is easy to understand and applied consistently and fairly.
This spring, a broad coalition of groups, led by the Chamber of Commerce, and including community leaders, members of the clergy, small businesses, and the labor community, worked with members of City Council to develop an Inclusive Growth Agenda as part of the PHL Neighborhood Growth Project. This multipart plan is focused on eliminating poverty across the city through inclusive, neighborhood focused growth and is built around four policy pillars — Inclusive Growth and Good Jobs, Education and Workforce Modernization, Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods, and Putting People First at City Hall.
It isn't intended to be a prescriptive agenda but instead starts an important conversation about the city’s future.
That’s why this fall’s City Council hearings on how best to foster inclusive, neighborhood growth, sponsored by Councilmember Derek Green, are so important. As individuals and as a city, we must move past the typical discussion of “winners and losers,” and focus on what it’ll take to build a job growth friendly city of Philadelphia.
It’s a big task, but we know big things can happen when the business community and labor work together — because Philadelphia has already done it. One only has to look at our skyline, full of tall buildings and cranes, to understand just how different the city is because of our partnership.
Rob Wonderling is president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia. Ryan N. Boyer is president of the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council and business manager of the Laborers’ District Council of the Metropolitan Area of Philadelphia and Vicinity.
The Philadelphia 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.