Feb. 9, 2023 10:26 am

How 100+ years of disinvestment has led to today’s Philadelphia

A brief explainer of the policies and organizations that have impacted communities in Philadelphia.

Skyline with City Hall, 1927. (Courtesy of the Free Library of Philadelphia, Digital Collections)

In 2020, The Philadelphia Controller’s office released a report that chronicled the history of structural racism in Philadelphia. Key to this report was Philadelphia’s history of redlining. For those who do not know exactly what that is, according to the New York Times, redlining is “racial discrimination of any kind in housing, but it dates back to government maps that outlined areas where Black residents lived and were therefore considered risky investments.” While housing, or the lack thereof, may not seem like a way to disinvest in a community, the controller’s office has found that redlined areas in Philadelphia are disproportionately impacted by several factors, including but not limited to; poverty, poor health outcomes, and limited educational attainment, compared to other neighborhoods in the city.

Decades later, Philadelphia’s poverty rate is 23.1%, double the U.S. average, graduation and proficiency rates of Black/African-American and Hispanic/Latinx students are declining, and the median household income of Black and Latinx households is $12,215 and $13,270, respectively, below the city’s median income in 2020. These persistent disparities contribute to gaps that widen over time and affect overall financial well-being and access to basic needs.

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In a city of neighborhoods, where some were once considered not worthy of investment for 100 years, there is still a lack of sufficient support structures that play a critical role in helping families build and maintain wealth – perpetuating the cycle of poverty and limiting opportunity. Organizations like  Children’s First PAAccelerate Health Equity, and United Way are working to alleviate poverty, eliminate racial disparities, and advocate on behalf of our communities for initiatives that improve equity and access for all – but they can’t do this work alone, and there is still much more to be done.

Want to know where to start?

Take a look at Eric Hartman and Stephanie Keene’s 2019 two-part series tracing Philadelphia’s 100-year history of exclusion and racism, which they say explains today’s poverty and inequality disparities. Part I  | Part II

What organizations are finding solutions and providing structures to create a more equitable Philadelphia?

What solutions do you have?

Share your thoughts here!


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