A new study commissioned by the Pew Charitable Trusts depicts Philadelphia as a place that has two sets of leaders, one political, one civic, with similar goals, different outlooks, and little contact with each other.
The report, which updates a similar document published in 1999, describes a city that has made real progress over the last eight years but is still held back by widespread poverty, high taxes, and a poorly educated workforce.
In the earlier report, author Basil J. Whiting, a Brooklyn-based consultant, found the city’s overall condition “decidedly negative.” A key weakness, he wrote then, was the fatalism and defeatism of the civic and business leadership.
That leadership deficiency has largely been corrected, according to Whiting’s 2007 report, only to be replaced by a new problem: The now-reinvigorated business, nonprofit, and university communities have fallen out of sync with city government.
The report, released yesterday, conjures up an image of two camps walking down the street in the same direction, but on opposite sidewalks:
“Over here is Mayor John Street’s administration, in its final year, African-American-led but diverse, feeling misunderstood and mistreated, unable to communicate effectively.
“Over there is the decentralized, often new, largely white, business, civic and community leadership, positive and bustling with projects. There seems to be relatively little contact or communication between these two groups.”
Among the symptoms and causes of concern are these:
One quarter of the population lives below the poverty line, including 36 percent of the children.
More than half of all city households with children have only one parent present.
The tax burden on people and businesses remains among the highest in the country.
The city continues to lose jobs and residents.
Only 20 percent of Philadelphians older than 25 have college degrees – a lower figure than in most other cities – and only 75 percent have high-school diplomas.