As Philadelphia's Median Income Increases, Staggering Poverty Rate Barely Budges

An increase in Philadelphia's median household income last year did very little to affect the city's staggering poverty rate, data recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau showed.

Experts in the field say the data is significant because it shows that even with an increase in income, the vast majority of families living in poverty in the city live so far below the poverty line that incremental income increases, while they do help, don't make much of a difference overall for them.

"It's good for people to have more income, obviously, but there are a lot of people in Philadelphia who were enough below the poverty line that even making more money doesn't lift them above the poverty line," said Kathy Fisher, policy manager at the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger.

The Census data showed that Philadelphia's median household income increased 5 percent in 2015, to $41,233. The city's poverty rate, though, remained virtually the same, dropping just two tenths of a percent, from 26 percent to 25.8 percent.

Among the country's 10 largest cities, Philadelphia had the highest deep poverty rate, according to a Philadelphia Inquirer analysis of federal data published in October 2015. Deep poverty is defined as household income of half the poverty line or less. The 2016 federal poverty line for a family of four, according to, is $24,300. Philadelphia's deep-poverty rate, according to the Inquirer report, stood at 12.3 percent according to the American Community Survey 2014 data cited.

"If you're making $12,000, $13,000, $14,000 a year and you get a raise, you're still going to be below the poverty line if you have a family of three or four," Fisher said.

Fisher said rent and housing costs also continue to increase, making it even harder on families already living in poverty. She said an increase in minimum wage, paid sick leave for hourly workers and a better income tax credit for low-income people could be a start in helping combat the problem.

A United States Department of Agriculture report released last week showed that for the state of Pennsylvania, food insecurity between 2013 and 2015 was 12.4 percent -- barely a change from the 12.3 percent rate over the previous three years, according to the Coalition Against Hunger.

Fisher said though the poverty problem is most severe in Philadelphia, data shows that families in surrounding counties are struggling as well.

"Philly is a very high poverty area, and it's going to be difficult to move forward," Fisher said. "But the numbers show there are people in poverty everywhere, in every county. When you look at Bucks, Chester, Montgomery, still in those counties there are thousands of people in poverty. There are people struggling to get by all over, so it does take a statewide approach."

Contact Us