Slow recovery leaves African Americans behind
Members of the city’s new Jobs Commission were briefed on the dire economic state of the city’s Black residents this week, as the group took public testimony for the first time. African-Americans in Philadelphia — in a trend that mirrors a national one — lag behind their white peers in terms of wealth and income.
“The economic landscape for Black Philadelphians is particularly bleak,” said Patricia A. Coulter, president and CEO of the Urban League of Philadelphia, who was among those testifying before the commission on Wednesday afternoon at City Hall.
Among her primary concerns was the unemployment rate for African Americans, which was higher than for whites. Citing a figure from the end of last year, Coulter said the Black unemployment rate was 13.3 percent compared to 7.9 percent for the state as a whole.
Even that number was deceiving.
“Those of us who work in the neighborhoods could agree that it’s double that,” said Commission chair Robert Nelson, president and CEO of OIC.
Much of Coulter’s testimony came from statistics published in an Urban League report released in 2008. According to Coulter, the organization is in the process of updating the data included in the report.
“For the sake of the conversation today, my belief is that the needle hasn’t moved significantly since 2008,” Coulter said.
The median income for Black families was $26,728, only about two-thirds that of a white family - $42,425.
The primary reason for that disparity was a lack of employment, Coulter said.
“A major contributor to the income and earnings picture is unemployment and the rates of unemployment,” she said.
In addition, nearly one-third of African American families in Philadelphia live in poverty, compared with less than half that rate among whites.
“The results of the examination of poverty statistics … all highlight an overall disturbing disparity,” Coulter said.
Though commissioners had no questions for Coulter, they did press others for their policy advice on job creation. Among the suggestions: reduction of the red tape required to start a small business, more technical support for small businesses, a continued reduction of business and wage taxes.
The 17-member commission was seated in May after voters, in 2011, gave city officials the authority to seat the group, approving a change to the Home Rule Charter in order to establish the panel. The political watchdog group the Committee of Seventy argued against the idea, contending that it was simply another layer of government bureaucracy.
Members, who are not paid, are expected to produce a series of recommendations for city policy makers within the next six months.