Mapping Poverty Over Time in Philadelphia

Philadelphia had the highest poverty rate of all the big cities in the United States in 2016. According to Shared Prosperity, “28% of Philadelphians – between 430,000 and 440,000 people – live below the federal poverty level, including 39% (135,000) of children, 27% (250,000) of work-age adults and 17% (32,000) of seniors. This reflects a sharp increase from Philly’s 1960 low of 15.4% and a divergence from the national trend of slowly decreasing poverty (aside from the increase related to The Great Recession).

Year Poverty Rate (Philly) Poverty Rate (US)
1960 18.8% 22.2%
1970 15.4% 12.6%
1980 20.6% 13%
1990 20.3% 13.5%
2000 22.9% 11.3%
2010 26.7% 15.1%
2014 26.7% 13.5%
Source: Us Census Bureau

The historic poverty rate in Philadelphia and its uneven spatial distribution are interesting because the area of the city is quite large (141 square miles), but the increases and decreases in the poverty rate over time are concentrated in a handful of census tracts. I analyzed historic US Census Data in QGIS to analyze the change – both positive and negative – in poverty rates of Philly’s census tracts between 1970 and 2010. Predictably, census tracts in Center City and in the vicinity of the University of Pennsylvania saw the greatest decrease in poverty over those 40 years and census tracts in North Philadelphia neighborhoods such as Kensington and Juniata saw poverty increase by as much as 70% during that time.

poverty-change
Cartography: Heather Squire, Temple University; Data: US Census Bureau

This was preliminary research to get a feel for the distribution of poverty in Philadelphia and to start pulling apart the question of why the poverty rate is persistently high, in spite of the recent influx of more affluent residents and forty years of anti-poverty initiatives. In the future I intend to look at patterns of homeownership vs. tenancy in these areas, and to trace the history of public housing in Philadelphia.

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