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Pew report: Philly’s 2020 unemployment rate was significantly worse than the national average

The annual State of the City report confirmed how Philadelphia changed for the worse during the pandemic.

Philadelphia's Schuylkill River at dusk. ( photo)

2020 brought economic hardship stemming from the pandemic, a social uprising and staggeringly high levels of gun violence to Philadelphia. The data in Pew Charitable Trust’s annual State of the City report released this week details those difficulties plainly.

Some key figures from the report:

  • The city’s unemployment rate rose from 6% in January 2020 to a 17% in April 2020, a high for the year, before declining to 9.3% in December 2020.
  • 40.2% of Hispanic people faced poverty in 2020, while 26.7% of Black people and 23.1% of Asian people faced poverty.
  • The number of city employees declined 6% from 28,528 to 27,757 between 2019 and 2020, marking the first decline in six years.
  • The leisure and hospitality industry suffered the biggest amount of job loss in 2020, down 32% from 2019 to 2020.
Read the full report

Pew’s Philadelphia Research and Policy Initiative Senior Adviser Larry Eichel said that in some ways, current economic recovery looks more challenging than the recovery that followed the last recession.

“Over the years, as Pew’s State of the City reports have shown, Philadelphia’s unemployment rate has typically been 1.5 to 2 percentage points higher than the national average,” he told “In 2009, in the depths of the Great Recession, the difference was only 0.4 percentage points. But in 2020, the city underperformed the nation by 4.1 percentage points; the rate was 8.1% nationally, 12.2% for the city.”

According to those figures, Eichel said that Philadelphia faces more challenges in reducing unemployment than in did following the last recession, which left Philly with high unemployment for five years. He added that the current recession’s lasting impact on unemployment remains to be seen.

The Pew report also poses a number of questions related to post-pandemic recovery, including this: “Will Philadelphia match or exceed its solid, pre-pandemic record of job creation, having outperformed the nation in three of the four years before the shutdown? How much will the benefits be shared among low-income residents and people of color?” Check out’s reporting series on resources and first-person stories of Black and Latinx founders who have grown their businesses in Philadelphia for some possible entrepreneurship-focused solutions.

Michael Butler is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
Companies: Pew Charitable Trusts

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