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Pew's annual report offered hope, but some issues that need addressing ASAP. Photo: Pixabay.
Pew's annual report offered hope, but some issues that need addressing ASAP. Photo: Pixabay.

Pew’s 2022 ‘State of the City’ signals a recovering Philly economy, but rising concerns over public safety

Philadelphia saw its worst year on record for gun violence in 2021, and 2022 looks about the same.

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According to a new report from the Pew Charitable Trusts, Philadelphia is on its way towards economic recovery from the pandemic, but there are a number of challenges that could hinder its upward growth.

It wasn’t all bad news though. The city’s unemployment rate did drop significantly last year.

“The year ended in December 2021 at a 5.8% unemployment rate, which is the same unemployment rate Philadelphia had in February 2019,” Pew senior manager Katie Martin told Audacy.

Real estate is also looking good. Martin said that the number of residential building permits soared last year to more than 26,000, which is a 361% increase. This is mainly because the city’s 10-year tax abatement program expired at the end of 2021, but Martin insisted that it’s still a good omen.

“It really does show a major increase in confidence in the Philadelphia real estate market, with developers wanting to take advantage of the 10-year tax abatement before it expired,” she said.

Pew’s survey polled 1,541 Philadelphians over the age of 18 between Jan. 3-31, and asked a series of questions on the pandemic, health, finances, employment, gun violence and people navigating their neighborhoods.

Pre-pandemic, Philadelphia was in the middle of a never-before-seen growth spurt, but now it is in a more vulnerable state. 

Jobs in education and healthcare are making a comeback, but overall job growth continues to fall behind the national average. 

Opioid crisis

Last year, overdose deaths — most of them tied to opioids — rose to an estimated 1,250, but Martin told The Philadelphia Inquirer that this number could change as Philly officials haven’t released final data yet. 

This issue is impacting Latino neighborhoods the most. More than two-thirds of Latino residents said they have felt a major negative impact in their neighborhoods because of the opioid crisis.

The Pew report also found a connection between areas of the city that experience high levels of violent crime, such as Kensington and Port Richmond. 

“Those stood out as neighborhoods who complained about and felt the strongest negative impact from opioids and also experienced the highest levels of violent crimes,” Martin said.

Public Safety Concerns

Public safety concerns are also rising among Philly residents, particularly for Asian Americans.

Narasimha ‘Nick’ Shenoy, founder of the Asian-American Chamber of Commerce, told The Inquirer that safety is the organization’s number one priority right now. Anti-asian hate crimes continue to increase, and people aren’t reaching out to the police anymore because Shenoy said they are “unresponsive.” 

The Pew report found that 70% of Philadelphians feel that the combination of crime and gun violence are now their main concerns. Gun violence surged in 2021, reporting a total of 2,326 shootings.  

In a 13% increase since 2020, Philly also reached a historic high in the number of homicides, reaching 562 last year, the largest since 1960. 

Philadelphia, along with other cities like Seattle and San Francisco, now recognize that policing needs to be returned, but reform, rather than abolition, is necessary, 

Shenoy said that Asian American business owners need more attention from the city, citing data that 10% of all businesses in Philly, approximately 130,000, are owned by immigrants from India, China and other Asian countries. 

“But unless the city provides security and safety they’re not going to be successful,” Shenoy said.

Varsovia Fernandez, executive director of the Pennsylvania CDFI Network, which offers loans to under-served business owners, agreed that the city should prioritize helping small business owners of color. 

“The Pew report focuses on individuals. But they should focus on businesses, which bring more economic development to fight poverty,” Fernandez said.

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