Fixing Philly's workforce system
Our latest study, released yesterday, finds that the city’s publicly funded workforce development system has lagged behind other cities across the country in helping laid-off workers find jobs. And it has trailed other systems in Pennsylvania in enrolling employers in that effort. The report, Philadelphia’s Workforce Development Challenge: Serving Employers, Helping Job Seekers and Fixing the System (PDF), examines the work of two nonprofit corporations that have been at the heart of the system—the Philadelphia Workforce Development Corporation and the Philadelphia Workforce Investment Board—leading up to a restructuring now underway. They spent about a half-billion dollars in public funds from mid-2007 to mid-2011 overseeing the city’s largest workforce programs, the EARN Centers for welfare recipients and CareerLink for other job seekers.
Our study found that Philadelphia workers who were laid off or faced layoff—and went through an employment or training program—were less likely to get jobs than similar workers in the other areas studied, including Baltimore, Chicago and St. Louis. On other measures of comparison, the Philadelphia system had a more mixed record. (Compare areas using our interactive chart). Among employers, just 12 percent were registered with Philadelphia’s CareerLink program to hire workers and get other services, half the 25 percent average elsewhere in Pennsylvania. The two nonprofit corporations are being merged in a restructuring, launched partly at the initiation of Mayor Nutter, that puts greater emphasis on serving employers. Officials say progress is being made in addressing the points raised in this report and in others. The restructuring coincides with two new, related laws: the city's "ban the box" prohibition on employers asking job applicants about any criminal record, and the state's new requirement that recipients of unemployment benefits register within 30 days at a CareerLink office.
City homelessness, hunger on the rise
Unemployment in major cities was the driving force behind a rising demand last year for homeless shelters and food assistance, including in Philadelphia, according to a new survey of 29 cities by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. The survey (PDF) found that 86 percent of cities are confronting an increase in requests for food aid. Philadelphia cited a 32 percent increase in food emergencies and a 15 percent increase in spending on food distributions, to $6.5 million. The city estimated that 17 percent of homeless people were turned away from shelters for lack of space, a rate about equal to the average among all of the cities. The survey came out as Pennsylvania weighs new limits on food stamps.
Ranking metro economies
Gauging the overall economic health of a metropolitan area is as much art as science. Or so it seems based on the recent work of two respected think tanks. The California-based Milken Institute, in its Best-Performing Cities index, ranks Philadelphia and its Pennsylvania suburbs 49th among the 200 largest metros in 2011, up from 83rd the year before. That sounds promising. But MetroMonitor, from the Brookings Institution, placed the area’s economy in the bottom 20 of the 100 biggest metros for the third quarter of last year; the region was above average early in the recession (PDF). MetroMonitor focuses more on short-term economic changes than does Best-Performing Cities, and, for Philadelphia, its definition of metropolitan area includes parts of New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland.
Study calls for reform of Fire Dept.
A new report on the Philadelphia Fire Department, done for
the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority (PICA), draws some
striking conclusions. The department’s big problem, the report says (PDF), is that its
average response time to medical emergencies is not up to national standards.
To remedy the situation and save the city money, the study recommends
increasing the department’s emergency medical staff, giving them some firefighting training and reducing the number of fire suppression personnel. The overall size of the department
would drop. In addition, the report said, the
department is plagued by a "poor" labor-management relationship and "issues of
racial and gender equity constantly in the background." The analysis, requested by the city, was written by Berkshire Advisors, an Ohio-based
consulting firm, with consultation from the city, the department and the firefighters' union.
Catholic school closings will be felt citywide
In our report (PDF) last fall on school closings, we talked about how hard it can be to put shuttered public-school buildings to productive use. That task will get more difficult in Philadelphia, once the Archdiocese goes ahead with its widely reported school-closing initiative and puts at least some of the structures onto the local real estate market. The closings also are likely to increase demand for spots in charter schools and in special-admission schools run by the School District of Philadelphia. In our 2010 survey (PDF), parents who send their children to Catholic schools said they did so for the school quality and secondly for the religious or moral values. (Here's our breakdown of responses from Catholic school parents).
Scoring the test scores
Local officials frequently tout the steady progress made by the Philadelphia public schools during the past decade on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) tests; more than half of all students now score “proficient” or “advanced” in both math and reading. But the school system has done less well on another standardized test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), administered to fourth- and eighth-graders through the U.S. Department of Education. In math, for instance, 18 percent of Philadelphia eighth-graders qualified for the two top scoring categories in 2011; the national average was 34 percent and the big-city average 26 percent. The Philadelphia results showed little change from 2009, the last time the test was given.
Can Amtrak ever be profitable?
That's the provocative question now up for debate on Freakonomics, the blog that tries to subject everyday issues to stricter economic scrutiny. The back and forth offers a useful range of opinions on all sides of the question, including some people saying that it should not be expected to be profitable. The discussion includes interactive data on Amtrak's losses from Pew's Subsidyscope.
Will Philly join the 'great government sell-off'?
City Council's new president, Darrell Clarke, has raised the idea again of selling city-owned assets as a way to raise revenue for the city. As we reported in 2010 (and so did the Wall Street Journal), several cities were weighing this option as a way to deal with their budget shortfalls. The Nutter administration considered selling a city-owned parking garage under Love Park and has appointed a task
force led by former mayoral candidate Tom
Knox to study asset sales. The Royal Bank of Scotland, which finances such deals, has commented that the "great government sell-off" is going strong in many U.S. states and municipalities. However, it cautioned investors that asking prices for some public assets (mostly in Europe) may be more than they're worth. "New investors should properly assess the revenue model of each investment," RBS said.
Philadelphia Poll 2012: Coming in February, our benchmark poll examines city residents' views of city services, the local economy and other public-interest issues. If you're not already getting our news alerts, sign up here to receive an email alert about the release.
Closing Public Schools in Philadelphia, our October report, drew wide attention to the lessons of six other municipalities for the School District of Philadelphia, which is proposing to close nine schools and reconfigure some others.
Philadelphia 2012 Update: The State of the City: We've begun working on our bi-annual update to our popular State of the City report. Printed copies of the 2011 full edition are still available, free of charge. To request one, send an e-mail to email@example.com with your name and postal address.
|Upcoming Public Events
|Jan. 19: School Reform Commission action meeting. Details here.
Jan. 19: "City of Firsts" panel discussion organized by Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia. Details here.
Jan. 21: Chinese New Year events begin in Philadelphia's Chinatown. Details here.
Jan. 27: LaSalle University's bi-annual local nonprofit funders conference. Details here.
Jan. 31: Conference on balancing individual vs. social good in city development. Details here.
Feb. 1: Edmund N. Bacon Prize annual award ceremony. Details here.
Feb. 10: Philadelphia Historical Commission monthly meeting. Details here.
Feb. 11: Campus Philly's one-day leadership conference for undergraduates. Details here.
Feb. 21: Monthly board meeting of Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority (PICA). Details here.
Feb. 21: City Planning Commission monthly meeting. Details here.
| Our Most-Read Reports
Closing Public Schools in Philadelphia: Lessons from Six Urban Districts. Read.
Philadelphia: State of the City 2011
City Councils in Philadelphia and Other Major Cities: Who Holds Office, How Long They Serve, and How Much it All Costs
We also conduct regular opinion surveys of Philadelphians on key issues, using nonpartisan pollsters who adhere to the highest standards of opinion research. See our Polling page.