Thursday, November 27, 2014
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Fix schools to stem population losses

For many young adults and recent college graduates, Philadelphia is a hot address right now, and it’s not difficult to see why.

Fix schools to stem population losses

Young couples who begin having children often base their decisions to stay in Philadelphia on the quality of its schools. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer)
Young couples who begin having children often base their decisions to stay in Philadelphia on the quality of its schools. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer) CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer

For many young adults and recent college graduates, Philadelphia is a hot address right now, and it’s not difficult to see why.

With extensive public-transit options, exciting dining, a thriving arts and culture community, and many rapidly-gentrifying neighborhoods, the city offers an exciting urban residential experience.

But when it comes time to start a family, too many young adults flee to the suburbs. It’s a trend that has peristed for years and that the city must work even harder to reverse.

The latest U.S. census figures show Philadelphia’s total population grew only slightly over the last decade. But a closer examination of the numbers bears out a troubling phenomenon for which there is no one easy answer.

Specifically, census figures show the city experiencing a surge in the number of young adults. But at the same time, the numbers of both over-35 adults and school-age children have fallen — a factor being the number of residents lost to the suburbs.

An analysis by The Inquirer and Daily News shows that 393,000 young adults ages 20 to 34 now make up a full 26 percent of the overall city population. That’s an increase of more than 50,000 people in the last decade.

During that same period, however, the number of children ages 5-14 fell by more than 43,000, and the population of adults ages 35-54 contracted by 16,000.

Statewide, the numbers show an overall “graying” of Pennsylvania, as many state residents who moved to the suburbs years ago are now aging in place, while others are drawn into senior-friendly developments and continuing-care facilities. Senior citizens now comprise about 15 percent of the total populations of Bucks and Montgomery Counties.

For the city, the most obvious — and yet most challenging — answer to suburban flight is to improve the quality and breadth of educational choices, so parents don’t need to choose between urban living and good schools.

It’s an issue of particular siginficance now as the School District of Philadelphia struggles to close a budget gap endangering teaching jobs and educational programs. A quality public school in every neighborhood would mean families no longer need to compete for spaces in the few good schools or, worse yet, move. A safe, quality neighborhood school also helps to lower crime rates and increase property values.

It’s in the city’s best interest to attract young professionals and college graduates and give them good reasons to put down their permanent roots here. For too many young families, quality-of-life issues and concerns about the city’s schools lead them to move from the city. It’s past time to stop giving them that excuse.

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