Pew Charitable Trusts
Philadelphia’s Poor: Experiences From Below the Poverty Line
How financial well-being affects everything from health and housing to education and employment
By many measures, Philadelphia is on an upswing, with a growing population, an influx of new investment, and rising household incomes. Yet at the same time, a significant share of the city’s residents are struggling. More than a quarter—about 400,000 people—live below the poverty line, which is about $19,700 a year for an adult with two children at home.
In this report, The Pew Charitable Trusts examines the attitudes and personal experiences of poor Philadelphians, exploring several key aspects of life that are affected by, and potentially helping to perpetuate, poverty— including health outcomes, employment prospects, exposure to crime, and access to quality schools. It expands on research from Pew’s 2017 study “Philadelphia’s Poor: Who They Are, Where They Live, and How That Has Changed,” which presented a detailed demographic and geographic view of poverty in the city.
This new study is predominantly based on five sources: analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data, administrative data from government agencies, focus groups of poor Philadelphians, interviews with experts who provide services for them, and results from Pew’s latest citywide public opinion poll.
The 2016 poll, which surveyed a sample of all Philadelphians, poor and nonpoor, probed the experience of poverty in a number of ways. It asked respondents whether they considered themselves to be poor while also seeking to determine whether they actually fell below the federal poverty threshold, based on household size and reported income. Interestingly, 45 percent of respondents who qualified as poor did not describe themselves as such.
The results also shed light on the extent to which poverty is an intergenerational phenomenon for some Philadelphians, and the degree to which others have experienced upward or downward mobility. More than half of the respondents who qualified as poor said they remembered growing up in or near poverty, while nearly half said they recalled being better off financially as children.
According to census data, about 30 percent of poor Philadelphians ages 16 and older worked in 2016, most in jobs such as cashiers, personal care aides, and laborers. But only about 1 in 5 of these working poor had yearround, full-time positions. At the same time, 61 percent of the city’s working-age poor were neither employed nor looking for a job in 2016, the highest rate found among the nation’s 10 most populous and 10 poorest large cities.
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