The Forever Changing City of Philadelphia

The Neighborhood of West Philadelphia 

West Philadelphia is one of the city’s largest neighborhoods. It holds many of the city’s schools, hospitals, and universities. People living in the area utilize these institutions in their daily lives whether it is for work, school, or personal matters. Many residents spend their day to day in this region, but the city is constantly changing, and West Philadelphia has also seen changes within itself. 

Exploring the Demographic Changes

To demonstrate the change in West Philadelphia’s demographic, information from both the 2000 Census and 2010 Census were used. Key traits to note from the 2000 Census are: 

Poverty Rate: With the total population of families in West Philadelphia being 43,320, there were 8,887 families that had incomes below poverty level.  

Median Household Income: The median household income was $25,136. 

Employed Population: During this period, the Census counted those 16 years of age and older in their data. Out of those that counted in the labor force of 88,542, 13,100 or 14.8% were unemployed, and 75,442 or 85.2% were employed.  

The 2010 Census collected in the West Philadelphia region demonstrated how the demographic looked more than a decade ago. The area has seen changes in the past 10 years and more within poverty rate, median household income, population, and other aspects. Information on topics like educational attainment, employment, income, and citizenship status are no longer included in the Decennial Census post-2000. 

The census provided an insight to what the region looked like, and what the statistics were: 

Population: The total population was 200,147 in 2010 in the region the Census focused on.

Homeownership: Out of 90,530 housing units, 78,167 were occupied. The number of units that were occupied by their owners totaled 34,905 while units occupied by renters equaled 43,262.  

Gender: The population of women totaled to 108,514, and the population of men totaled to 91,633. 

Race: In West Philadelphia, Black or African American residents made up the largest percentage of the population with the number of residents equaling to 142,499 or 71.2%. It was then followed by White residents totaling to 34,759, Asian residents totaling 11,425, American Indian or Alaskan Native residents totaling to 738, mixed raced residents being 4,348, unlisted race residents being 393, and the smallest group being Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander totaling to 68. 

Changes in Demographics during the Pandemic Period

During the years 2020-2021, at the height of the pandemic and then going into the recovery period, West Philadelphia saw differences within its demographic. The targeted differences included:  

Poverty Rate: In 2021, 30.3% of West Philadelphia’s population was in poverty but it was a 3.73% decrease from 2020. 

Population: The population of people living in West Philadelphia decreased between the years 2020 – 2021 going from 131,975 according to the Census, to information found on Pew Trust of the population dropping to 131,267.  

Employed Population: In 2021, the employed population was 50,663 which was a 3.12% growth from 2020.  

Property Value: The median property value in 2021 for West Philadelphia was $127,600 which is a 5.72% increase from 2020.  

Homeownership: The percentage of homeowners in 2021 was 46.7%. To count, the housing units needed to be occupied by their owner. This was a decrease from 2020 as the percentage of homeowners was originally 48.4%. 

Median Household Income: The median household income increased between 2020-2021. In 2020, a household would have a median income of $35,962 compared to $38,348 in 2021. 

Gender: In 2021, women made up a larger percentage of the population living in West Philadelphia. Men made up about 45.7% of the population, but women lead with a percentage of 54.3% 

Race: The three largest ethnic groups consisted of Black or African American, White, and Asian. Black or African Americans made up 104,000 of the population followed by Whites making up 14,000 and Asians at 4,980. People who identify as Hispanic made up about 4,150 of the population.  

Median Earnings: The split between earnings made by women and men showed that women made average earnings of around $32,902. Men, however made about $36,758 on average. 

The Pandemic on the City of Philadelphia as a Whole 

During the years of 2010-2019, Pew Trusts Research reports that, “the city’s economy performed well, matching, and in some years outperforming, the nation in job generation—something it had not done in half a century,” as the city was progressing. Some of the changes seen were: 

  • The number of jobs rose from 657,400 in 2010 to 740,600 in 2019. 
  • Unemployment rate fell from 10.3% to 5.6% which was the lowest in many years. 
  • The poverty rate declined from 26.7% to 23.3% but the city was still one of the highest among the nation’s top 10. 

Philadelphia had a tough time adjusting after the pandemic. The city underperformed the national economy, and recovered more slowly than many other cities have. For instance, groups that were most affected were Black workers and female workers along with individuals without bachelor’s degrees. These groups faced an irregular balance of job losses from the second quarter of 2019 until the same period in 2021. Another factor COVID-19 had when it came to working was the transition to working from home more often. Although working remote has its benefits, for example during this time it helped to keep people from spreading illness to one another through quarantine and strict guidelines on social distancing. However, the downside to that comes down to the fact that it reduced the amount of people in the city’s primary downtown business corridor during the day. The use of public transportation to offices and office spaces was also reduced. 

A City in Constant Motion 

In the West Philadelphia region, every Friday evening and Saturday morning at 705 S. 50th St. a small makeshift supermarket has been popping up. From the beginning of the pandemic, this makeshift supermarket known as the Pandemic Pantry has been stocked with locally grown produce such as onions, tomatoes, an array of baked goods, dairy products, meats, seafood, and more. Pandemic Pantry began the first week of the lockdown and has continued to this day. At the beginning of each week, founder Ann Karlen and her team send out a Google Form with a selection of goods to get an estimate of what they must order. The orders arrive on Wednesday, and on Thursday the team begins to organize the goods before final adjustments are made on Friday morning. Customers arrive between 3 and 7 PM on Friday or 11 AM through 2 PM on Saturday. Members of the community visit weekly to retrieve their orders. They often see their friends and neighbors here and the PanPan (a nickname for Pandemic Pantry) provides an opportunity for others to make new connections too. PanPan creates a sense of community and brings people in the area to one space weekly. This is only one example of how West Philadelphia is evolving and constantly in motion of change, but there are many other ways to how the neighborhood is evolving.  

 

Maggie Jiang, Business Development & Marketing Intern | [email protected]

Maggie Jiang is a current third year student attending Drexel University working as an intern with the Business Development & Marketing team at ESI. She anticipates graduating in 2026 with a degree in marketing

 

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