Philadelphia Still Has Almost 10% Unemployment and Not Enough People Are Talking About It

As an addendum to last week’s post about the luxury politics of anti-housing activists and their champions on City Council, Center City District’s monthly economic status report contains some pretty unnerving statistics about the jobs situation, like the fact that the unemployment rate still nearly double what it was in January of 2020, at 9.4 percent. 

“On a seasonally adjusted basis, Philadelphia gained 1,700 jobs in August, and has restored 52,500 (43%) of the 123,400 jobs lost in the first two months of the pandemic, compared to 48% in New York and 35% in Washington. Job gains in August in Philadelphia were led by government (3,300) and professional and business services (500). These gains were offset by losses in health care and social assistance (1,500) and retail trade (400). On a percentage basis, the employment sectors with the largest declines since the onset of the pandemic include leisure and hospitality (31%), transportation, warehousing and utilities (17%), educational services (16%), and other services (14%). Three sectors – health care and social assistance, government, and financial activities – have seen relatively small declines of 5% or less since February 2020. As of August, the information sector and construction were the only industries that were at or above their pre-pandemic employment level.

The restoration of jobs in the suburbs far exceeds recovery in the city. In the first two months of the pandemic, the city and the nine-county metropolitan area lost virtually the same percentage of jobs (16.4% in the city versus 17.3% in the region), but the region has since recovered 68% of its lost jobs and the city has recovered just 43%. The slow pace of the city job recovery is mirrored by the employment levels of residents. As of July, the number of Philadelphia residents who are employed is back to 91% of the pre-pandemic (February 2020) level compared to 95% of regional residents." 

(Unemployment Rate, Northeast Cities | Image: Center City District)

Think about that: Nearly one in ten Philadelphia residents is currently unemployed. The CCD report says Philadelphia has gained back only 43% of the jobs that were lost in 2020. 

Federal employment statistics show we’ve lost about 50,000 jobs—around the same number that we gained over the last 10 years, which could make the whole last decade of job growth a wash unless we can get back to the prior trend soon. 

And yet, instead of running around with their hair on fire about almost 10% unemployment, some City Councilmembers are still fully focused on coming up with policy ideas to have less economic activity in housing, and fewer construction sector jobs.

Some elected officials have unfortunately gotten stuck in a bubble on this issue, where the main people they get calls from about these issues are overwhelmingly housing-secure homeowners, and not the people who’ve been out of work since 2020 and need for there to be more jobs in the city, or the people who can't find a place to live with historically-low home inventory available. And that’s skewing their perspectives on what’s really important about housing right now.

Everyone would like to believe that their favorite policy idea must also be positive or at least neutral when it comes to jobs, but it isn’t always true. A big housing clampdown of the sort Council President Clarke wants to see, or unintended consequences from poorly-calibrated changes to the Mixed-Income Housing program or mandatory inclusionary zoning bills, would undoubtedly come with a jobs cost—high-paying working-class jobs—at a time when the city desperately needs to restore tens of thousands of jobs. The timing could not be worse. 

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  • Jon Geeting
    published this page in Blog 2021-09-24 11:56:36 -0400