Poverty In Philadelphia: Help From Harrisburg?

Here at Hall Monitor, we constantly ask elected officials and experts about possible solutions to the city’s poverty epidemic. It is our belief that poverty plays a major role in the other issues plaguing the city, including our violence epidemic. The two are inextricably linked, and serious efforts to reduce poverty will have a similar effect on crime and violence.

We’ll be doing a series of articles this summer discussing possible solutions to the poverty epidemic here in Philadelphia. Before we do that, however, we believe it is important to discuss just what “poverty” means.

First, the basics. According to recent census data, Philadelphia is home to almost 1.6 million people, with nearly 6% under the age of five, 21% under the age of 18, and 14.7% over the age of 65. 52.6% of city residents are women.

When we look at demographic data, something very interesting becomes apparent. The percentage of white people is just over 44%, Black people make up 43%, Latino or Hispanic people make up 16%, and Asian people are around 8%.

There isn’t anything surprising in those numbers, but here’s where it gets interesting. Throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, white people make up a staggering 80% of the population. Why is this significant?

The state legislature is one of the key institutions that can help Philadelphia break its crippling cycle of poverty. However, the composition of the legislature, a significant portion of which is elected from rural (and overwhelmingly white) districts, exhibits an almost pathological antipathy to Philadelphia.

In any honest assessment of the merely economic benefits Philadelphia provides to the rest of the Commonwealth, it would make good sense for decision-makers in Harrisburg to provide more financial resources to Philadelphia. However, this clearly has not been the case.


Looking at the demographic data, the answer is clear. Rural legislators, elected from rural districts, do not want to be seen as helping Philadelphia; or, more specifically, Philadelphians, a majority of whom are Black, Brown, and Asian.

What some of these rural legislators and their supporters will likely tell you is that Philadelphia can’t be counted on to manage itself; it is corrupt and needs to get its problems handled blah blah blah.

The truth is far more complicated. Certainly, Philadelphia has significant issues at every level. But rural counties are not immune from some of the very problems Philadelphia is facing.

According to CeaseFirePA, a highly reputable organization dedicated to ending gun violence in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia does lead the state in gun violence deaths over the last ten years-coming in at 20.5 per 100,000 residents. However, Wayne County in Northeast Pennsylvania, has, over the same time period, a gun violence death rate of 20.1 per 100,000. With a population of just over 50,000, Wayne County is a fraction of the size of Philadelphia but facing a gun violence problem on a similar scale.

This is just one of the many examples of “Philadelphia problems” occurring all across the Commonwealth. There are certainly more issues plaguing the entire Commonwealth. We’ll discuss them more throughout the summer, including inequitable school funding.

As it stands, sitting on a nearly $12 billion surplus, there is much the Commonwealth could do to alleviate some of Philadelphia’s poverty-induced problems, but the political will simply does not exist.

Next week, we’ll walk you through the city’s poverty statistics and how they show systemic disinvestment from communities of color.

Our reporters sit through hours of city council meetings, dig through piles of documents, and ask tough questions other media overlook. Because we’re committed to addressing Philadelphia’s poverty crisis — and challenging those who sustain it. If you think this work is important too, please support our journalism.

We’re counting on readers like you.


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