And now for some old news:

In the first half of the current decade (which we still don't have a name for - what happened to 'the oh-ohs'?), employment in the city of Philadelphia fell 4.5 percent.

This statistic leaped out at me from a report I just found, issued last summer by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. That makes it old news, but still worth bringing up for two reasons:

Nobody reported it at the time, as far as I can tell.

Another mayoral election season is upon us. And it would be negligent to let the candidates bloviate till polling day without pointing out the elephant in the city's living room.

The Fed report, called "A Mid-Decade Update," highlights a fact that should be on the lips of every activist and policymaker in Philadelphia: For all the new restaurants, condominium towers and cultural attractions over the last few years, our city continues to lose jobs.

It's not a new trend; Philadelphia employment has been shrinking since the 1950s. In brief periods - the late 1980s and again from 1998 to 2000 - that outflow reversed, and there was actual growth in employment. But these have been brief speed bumps, if you will, on the road to a smaller city.

Today, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are about 664,000 jobs within city limits. In mid-2000 - the end of the last short growth spurt - Philadelphia's employment rolls totaled about 700,000. And that was still down from 1988, the previous high point, when employment totaled about 777,000.

You could argue that this is typical of older, industrial Northeastern cities, losing ground to the booming Sun Belt. But you would be wrong.

Across the larger metropolitan region (including suburban Pennsylvania and New Jersey, as well as northern Delaware), the overall pattern of job growth is precisely the opposite of the city's: steady, gradual gains interrupted by short downturns that last no more than a few months.

After 2000, regional employment fell a couple of percentage points, but the numbers turned around beginning in early 2004. The metro area now stands about 2.6 percent ahead of where it was when the decade began. That's about 50,000 net new jobs.

South Jersey gained the most, percentage-wise, boosting employment almost 12 percent, or 60,000 jobs. The Pennsylvania suburbs added about the same number, but, with a larger base, the percentage increase was much smaller, about 3 percent. The Wilmington area grew about 5 percent, adding about 18,000 jobs.

So what's the city of Philadelphia's problem? That's the really old news.

As my colleague Larry Eichel reported last week, Philadelphia continues to be one of the most heavily taxed cities in America.

Added up, our wage, business and property taxes transfer a higher percentage of personal and business income to City Hall's coffers than do the taxes of any other American municipality - with the possible exception (depending on the study) of New York City.

Again, what's really striking is how little has changed. The same studies done 10 years ago showed the same results: Philadelphia taxes are higher than almost anywhere else - in the region or across the country.

Is it any surprise, then, that entrepreneurs and corporate managers - the people who create jobs - find the city toxic, and avoid it if they can?

No. Indeed, it's hard to find anyone who would argue otherwise. If anything, the city's general unattractiveness as a place in which to do business seems to have become hardwired into the civic and political culture.

Witness a news release that came last week, trumpeting a program that helps low-income Philadelphians commute to jobs in the suburbs.

Prominently mentioned was U.S. Rep. (and mayoral hopeful) Chaka Fattah, who secured federal funds for the program.

If you've basically given up on the city ever growing jobs again, I suppose it makes sense. But is that the best Philadelphians can hope for?