Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Where We Live or Philly is Doin' Just Fine



The Pew Research Center came out with a new Social and Demographic Trends Report on January 29th, with some interesting data. The report looks at where Americans live and where they would like to live. It breaks down this data by race, education, income, and political leanings. It also deals with issues of perceived problems and values that factor into choosing a place to live (e.g., good environment for raising children, cultural resources, etc.)

The element that caught my attention was Philadelphia’s place in the list of “Americans Most Popular Big Cities.” Philadelphia is ranked 17th, tied with New York, Dallas, and Chicago. Most of the cities ranked above Philadelphia are either on the west coast or in Florida (with the exceptions of Boston and Atlanta). Not surprisingly, nationwide, west coast cities are hotter than east coast cities.

What does all this mean? Well, for a city that many thought was headed the way of Detroit, in the early 1990s, I would say Philadelphia is looking pretty good. In fact, I would dare say that Philadelphia has pushed its way over the tipping point, and seems destined, for the foreseeable future, to remain as one of America’s up-and-coming big cities, headed on a positive trajectory.

One of Philadelphia’s weakest points in recent times has been its level of educational attainment. In Center City, 79% of residents hold a college degree. However, citywide, that number is only about 18%. Compared to citywide rates of higher-education attainment in the other big cities, that rate is dismal.

However, the Pew data shows a positive indicator, in that regard. According to the Pew report, Philadelphia is in the top ten cities preferred by college graduates. The report states that 38% of college graduates surveyed said they would like to live in Philadelphia. That rate ties with Washington D.C., and is just below Portland and Boston.

Also interesting is the fact that Philadelphia is one of the top five cities to have the largest difference between preference amongst college grads and those who hold a high-school diploma or less. Only 16% of the latter group reported a preference to live in Philadelphia. Thus, the historic, blue-collar workshop of the world is now viewed as a less attractive place for those with lower educational attainment, and an attractive place for those with higher educational attainment.

This is the most pertinent information to Philadelphia; however, there is other interesting national data that deserves some attention. Currently, 31% of those surveyed live in cities, 26% live in suburbs, 26% live in small towns, and 16% live in rural areas. However, when surveyed for where they would ideally want to live, 23% said cities, 25% said suburbs (about the same as the existing), 30% said small town, and 21% said rural. The conclusion is that there seems to be a preference for small towns and rural living (whatever that means, anymore).

The Pew report shows a breakdown of who lives where and who would like to live where. The data is broken down by age, gender, family income, race/ethnicity, education, and political party identification. The who-lives-where and the who-wants-to-live-where are pretty similar. Despite the fact that most people surveyed said they would like to live somewhere else, their ideal living environment (city, suburb, small town, rural) seemed to match where they actually lived.

However, there was one notable variance to this: respondents age 18-29 want to live in cities. Currently 28% of that age group reported living in a city, whereas 40% of that group reported wanting to live in a city. That was by far the highest jump between the two sections for any age group or living type area. Those of us who deal with urban demographics know that there is a new preference for young people to live in cities, but did we realize that the figure was so high?

A final tidbit has to do with political preference. Since 1952 Philadelphia has had a Democratic mayor, and is widely considered a liberal stronghold. However, the Pew data reports that 28% of Democratic respondents showed a preference for Philadelphia, 26% of Independent respondents showed a preference for Philadelphia, and 17% of Republicans showed a preference for Philadelphia. Those numbers are respectively similar when the terms liberal, moderate, and conservative are used.

First of all, those preference numbers are pretty high (Detroit was in single digits for all groups), continuing to support the point that Philadelphia has become a much more desirable place to live. However, more importantly, while there is a liberal leaning in preference for Philly, the preference is much more even than I would have expected. This indicates that Philadelphia seems to appeal to a broader spectrum of the population than one might have surmised.

In any case, that’s enough number crunching for one day. If you want more, check out the full report Here.

1 comment:

Taggart said...

David Brooks, of the New York Times, tries his hand at exlpaining the Pew Research data, doing an awful job in my opinion. I actually commented on his column, providing a link to your blog with your interpretation, but the comment was ignored. It might have been on purpose since I said his interpretation was sadly very inferior to yours. Also, are you attached to the Streets Blog Network? You should be, look it up. Keep doing a great job.