More than half of Philly adults have never married, and poverty is largely to blame | Crain's Philadelphia

More than half of Philly adults have never married, and poverty is largely to blame

LOVE statue in Philadelphia | Photo via flickr

Of the nation’s 10 largest cities, Philadelphia has the highest percentage of adults that have never been married, the reasons for which carry a mixed bag of outcomes for area businesses.

A report released by The Pew Charitable Trusts last month found that in 2015, almost 52 percent of adult Philadelphians reported having never been married, up nine percent from 2005. The City of Brotherly Love had more never-married adults than Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City, which sat at about 49.7 percent, 46.6 percent, and 44.2 percent, respectively. The national figure is at 33.5 percent.

Larry Eichel, director of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Philadelphia Research Initiative, said the increase could be attributed to the city’s poverty rate and the rising number of young adults.

“People are marrying later in life,” Eichel said. “There also appears to be a correlation between a high never-married rate and a high poverty rate.”

Backing up his first point, Census figures show that the median age of marriage increased nationally from 26.2 in 2005 to 28.7 in 2015. But Judith Levine, a sociology professor at Temple University, believes Philadelphia’s larger share of never-married adults has more to do with the latter; while it’s declined slightly in the last few years, Philadelphia’s poverty rate stands at about 26 percent, the highest among the nation’s 10 largest cities.

“It’s no coincidence that the one with the highest percentage of people who have never married is also the one with the highest poverty rate,” Levine said. “We’re really in this period where there’s just this huge class divide in who gets married.”

Compared to the more highly-educated, upper-to-middle class, Levine said that low-income individuals have largely moved away from tying the knot because they don’t feel they can afford it.

“They see marriage as a point along the transition to adulthood that happens after certain other things happen, like education or being able to buy a home,” she said.

This carries consequences for area businesses.

Philadelphia’s poverty problem means that a disproportionate amount of the city’s budget must be spent on health and human services line items, rather than on job creation line items, said Harold T. Epps, Philadelphia’s commerce director.

“That has an adverse effect on our ability to compete with other cities as it relates to recruiting, retaining, and supporting business growth,” Epps said. “The poverty rate also translates to a low educational degree attainment rate, which makes it harder for our business community to obtain the educated workforce that it needs.”

One of the major ways Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration is trying to combat the problem is by reaching citizens at a young age through its $500 million, multi-year Rebuild program, which aims to resurrect and revitalize the city’s parks, recreation centers and libraries, and invest in pre-kindergarten schools.

The aim of the program is to promote educational opportunities while offering kids a place where they can play and feel safe.

“That way, we can increase the percent of citizens that have some form of license, certificate or degree beyond high school,” Epps said.

Epps is also involved in a workforce development effort through the city that helps those who have “fallen out of the system” re-enroll for a license, certificate or degree.

“We have to focus on industries that have a high need for labor-related employment to provide employment for our existing citizens while trying to teach, educate and coach the next generations about needing to obtain higher levels of education,” Epps said.

Still, deep poverty is one of Philly’s most enduring problems, and change won’t happen overnight.

On the flip side, Philadelphia has been attracting an increasing number of people between the ages of 18 and 34 living within its limits. And while their impact on Philly’s share of never-married adults is less significant than that of the poverty rate, these millennials play a role nonetheless.

Of all the country’s major cities, Philadelphia recorded one of the largest percentage increases in millennials in recent years, according to a 2016 report from the Pew Charitable Trusts; from 2005 to 2014, residents ages 20 to 34 grew by more than 120,000.

“Twenty-seven percent of people in the city are millennials — we lead the nation,” Epps said.

This group of people is getting married later in life, Census data shows, with the median age coming in at 27 for women and 29 for men.

Businesses hoping to attract and retain millennial talent have followed this group of workers into the city, as well, Epps said, though he couldn’t quantify how many businesses’ moves were influenced by this.

“I can tell you that since 2010, our jobs and Philadelphians working have gone up by about 10 percent,” Epps said. “That equates to about 50,000 to 60,000 people and jobs.”

Millennials are coming to Philadelphia for the work, too, among other opportunities.

A report from the Center City District found that millennials and empty-nesters led a 17 percent increase in the population of Greater Center City since 2000, a change attributed to “the diverse employment, educational, cultural and dining opportunities concentrated downtown.”

The demand for urban living among millennials has grown over the years, but Epps said that Philadelphia has been uniquely positioned to attract and retain them. Philly has one of the highest concentrations of colleges and universities in the U.S., a robust public transportation system, and an affordable cost of living compared to New York and Boston.

That’s been good for tech startups like Curalate.

“We have approximately 70 employees in our Philly office, of whom all but eight are millennials,” said Luke Butler, who manages strategy and operations for Curalate.

And good for business is good for Philly.

February 24, 2017 - 7:07pm