Exploring Black Unemployment in Philadelphia
As part of our continuing series, we look at black unemployment in the City of Brotherly Love.
Although Philadelphia locals sometimes fiercely insist that their city is unique, this isn’t true as far as its job landscape is concerned. Following the typical pattern of many big American cities – New York, for example – unemployment is higher there than in its state. This is bad news for people of color, as “typical” also means that members of their community are much more likely to be out of work than those of other races.
Philadelphia comes in at #3 on the list of largest black populations in US cities. According to the 2010 census, it’s home to over 660,000 African Americans. This number is trumped only by Chicago and New York, but compared to those two municipalities, Philly blacks comprise a significantly higher proportion of the total population (43% vs. Chicago’s 33% and New York’s 27%).
Those individuals live in one of America’s biggest cities, and true to the tendency of this country’s municipalities Philadelphia has a higher jobless rate than its surroundings. That rate in Pennsylvania as a whole was 7.6% of the workforce at the end of this past February, according to the state’s Department of Labor & Industry. This is great if you live in most areas of the state that aren’t Philadelphia; the city’s rate was more than half a percentage point higher, at 8.3%.
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That 8.3% matched the national unemployment figure. That isn’t a bad thing, but Philadelphia has also historically twinned the national black/white jobless ratio, which isn’t good. Overall, nearly twice as many African-Americans as whites were out of work in late 2011 in this country, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Meanwhile, research from the Economic Policy Institute reveals that one year earlier that ratio was essentially the same in the Philadelphia metro area.
One big reason for the disparity, in Philadelphia’s case, is the preponderance of government jobs. These have traditionally been a reliable source of employment for people of color. But throughout the country, all levels of government have slimmed down their workforces over the past few years. This is affecting the City of Brotherly Love disproportionally, as the city has always been government-heavy – the US mint, for example, has a large operation in the city as does the national rail carrier Amtrak. All told, Philly’s public sector has shed approximately 9,000 jobs over the past year, according to the Pennsylvania DLI. Of that total, local government saw the biggest loss, at around 6,000 positions.
So while Philadelphians may be proud and protective of their city, it does have some way to go to reach equality in its job opportunities. Those 660,000 African Americans need better chances for work.