In Philadelphia, a Shrinking Middle Class, Growing Lower Class

Philadelphia’s middle class, as defined by income, shrunk from 59 percent of the city’s adult population in 1970 to 42 percent in 2010, according to a Pew analysis. The period was also marked by a sharp decline in the city’s overall population, which shed more than 422,000 residents, a loss of 22 percent. The number of middle-class adults fell almost twice as fast, dropping 43 percent.

However, just as Philadelphia’s population losses stabilized in recent years, so, too, have the losses in the middle class. Between 2000 and 2010, the city added 8,456 residents, an increase of less than 1 percent. During that same time, the share of Philadelphia’s adults in the middle class also changed very little, from 43 percent in 2000 to 42 percent in 2010.

… But in the Suburbs, Middle-Class Losses Offset by Upper-Class Gains

The middle class also declined in the suburbs by a similar share as in the city. But unlike Philadelphia, where the share of lower-class adults grew in equal measure with middle-class decline, the proportion of upper-class adults grew substantially in the suburbs, from 16 percent in 1970 to 27 percent in 2010.

The overall population of the suburbs also offers a sharp contrast to the city. Philadelphia’s suburbs added 870,000 residents between 1970 and 2010, an increase of 30 percent, compared with a decline in the city of 22 percent.

In Philadelphia, More of a Lower Class, Less of an Upper Class

As a percentage of total population, Philadelphia’s middle class is roughly similar to that of many other large U.S. cities. Where it differs from most is in its share of the lower and upper classes. Philadelphia’s lower-class share is the third-highest of the 10 cities selected by Pew for comparison purposes. Its upper-class share is the third-lowest at 9 percent; the seven cities above it have upper classes that account for at least 15 percent of the population.

Philadelphia’s Vanishing Middle-Class Neighborhoods

In 1970, Philadelphia was an overwhelmingly middle-class city — 81 percent of its census tracts had middle-class majorities. Forty years later, only 31 percent of its tracts were majority middle class.

Education as an Entry to the Middle Class

In 1970, 44 percent of Philadelphia adults attained middle-class status without having earned a high school degree, and only 8 percent of middle-class adults had attended four or more years of college. By 2010, those percentages had largely reversed: only 8 percent lacked a high school degree, and more than a third had attended four or more years of college.

Middle-Class Employment in Philadelphia by Industry

White-collar work, such as in finance and other professional services, made up more than half of all middle-class jobs in 2010, nearly doubling its share since 1970. The traditional working-class jobs in manufacturing and construction fell from a third of all middle-class jobs to 10 percent. Both trends matched the overall shift in jobs among all city residents, according to Pew.