Rising in the (North)east

Posted by Philabundance on December 30th, 2013


The U.S. Census Bureau recently released new data from its 2012 American Community Survey, spanning the five year period from 2008 to 2012. Covering the bulk of the Recession and its aftermath, this data reveals much about how poverty has grown and shifted form over the past several years in our region. Poverty in general has increased—13.1% of Pennsylvanians lived in poverty over the past five years, compared with 11.6% in 2007. In the city of Philadelphia, poverty levels rose at a similar rate, from 24.5% to 26.2%.

While these numbers are unfortunate, they are not surprising. More startling is the dramatic increase in poverty levels in certain sections of the city. Particularly notable is the explosive rise in poverty in the Lower Northeast. Since 1999, poverty in the Lower Northeast, which includes the neighborhoods of Frankford, Wissinoming, Oxford Circle, Crescentville, Lawndale, Burholme, Fox Chase, Rhawnhurst, Mayfair, and Tacony, has increased by astonishing 62%.

An obvious question arises: why has poverty grown so rapidly in the Lower Northeast?

A recent article by Alfred Lubrano of the Philadelphia Inquirer acknowledged a few of the factors, but we’d like to take a deeper dive into this region. This issue is very personal to me.  Beyond my work for Philabundance, this is the neighborhood I grew up in.  It’s the neighborhood in which I went to school and got my first job.  It’s the neighborhood where many of my friends and family still live and work.  It’s a neighborhood I still call “going home” whenever I visit.   So when looking at the recent growth of poverty, I see there are many more factors that can’t be summarized by a single statistic.

One major component is unemployment. In the year 2000, the overall city unemployment rate was 10.9%. The 19111 zip code, which covers much of the Lower Northeast, had a significantly lower unemployment rate of 5.8%. However, in the 2008-2012 period, unemployment in 19111 doubled, reaching 11.7%. Even more dramatically, in the 19149 zip code, which encapsulates Mayfair, 2000’s 5.4% unemployment rate tripled to 15.8%.  There are several contributing factors here—with both national and regional trends at play.[1]

These trends don’t stop with unemployment.  The Northeast has also been hit hard by foreclosures.  Along with Oak Lane, these neighborhoods have seen some of the highest foreclosure rates of any part of the city. For many residents, a home is the largest investment made throughout a lifetime. For many impacted by the recession—that investment lost considerable value over the last five to ten years.

Additionally, the Lower Northeast is deprived of necessary social service infrastructure. Health Center 10, the only city-run health facility in the Northeast, is one example of this phenomenon in action. It has an eight month waiting period for new adult patients, the longest of any health center in Philadelphia. Similarly, while there are 45 Community Development Corporations in Philadelphia, not a single one operates in the Lower Northeast west of Roosevelt Boulevard. There is a substantial lack of investment by the rest of the city in the population of the Lower Northeast, and the consequences are palpable.  The Philabundance agency network is no exception.  In response, we have launched a Fresh for All location, and worked to strengthen our existing agencies.

An additional component in this increase in poverty is the changing demographics of the Lower Northeast as discussed in Alfred Lubrano’s article. Within the past several years, immigrant populations in the Lower Northeast have boomed along with the demand for assistance. When immigrants arrive in Philadelphia with limited economic resources and social capital, they are greeted not with open arms and a helping hand, but with a staggering lack of resources. In such circumstances,  poverty is nearly unavoidable.  Nearly unavoidable.

Because if there is one abstract attribute defining Philadelphians—that can’t be summed up in a statistic—it is resilience. It’s the ability to pick ourselves up as one community and demand better.  Further growth in poverty is avoidable, if we act together as community to bring the necessary infrastructure in place. So as we enter 2014, Philabundance resolves to be there for the Northeast—and for every neighborhood in the Delaware Valley—to join in the solutions to drive poverty and hunger from our communities.

[1] You must also consider the reduction in City employees in this area.  The Northeast has long been a hub for City employees.  However since 2004 we have seen a reduction of roughly 3,000 city employees, while the City has also relaxed residency requirements allowing City employees to reside outside of the city proper.

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