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The COVID-19 economy has changed both how and where we work, and not just for those of us working from home. In the years leading up to March 2020, unemployment was low and job growth was steady across the Philadelphia region. While the type of jobs available within the City of Philadelphia differed from the type of jobs available in the surrounding suburbs, overall job gains moved more or less in tandem. That is no longer the case.
Philadelphia’s great periods of growth in the 19th and 20th century resulted from a broad range of businesses making goods, with workers flocking to construct ships, weave clothes, and build locomotives. After deindustrialization took hold in the mid 20th century, Philadelphia began to rely heavily on its service sector for growth, thanks to the growth in tourism, “eds and meds,” hotels, restaurants, and shops. Unfortunately, these sectors have been hit particularly hard by COVID-19 shutdowns.
For example, in 2019 there were 423 job postings for “Baggage Porters, Bellhops, and Concierges” in the city. In 2020, there were only 214 – a decline of 52%. This contrasts with the surrounding counties, where postings in the same occupation increased from 626 in 2019 to 689 in 2020, a gain of 10%. Other service sector jobs saw similar divergences, with postings for several food service occupations falling between 20% and 40 % in the city and increasing by 5%-20% in the surrounding region. Both the suburbs and the city saw big jumps in the number of warehouse and logistics jobs, but again the increases were larger outside the city. Across the board, firms located in the suburbs and exurbs posted around 33% fewer jobs per week since the start of COVID-19, while those firms located in the City of Philadelphia are down by 40%.
What does this mean for Philadelphia, and its jobs market going forward? Any true recovery will depend on the speed at which vaccines can be administered. The sooner most people are vaccinated, the sooner the service industry can begin to think about re-opening. It’s possible that pent up demand from a year or more of being stuck at home will lead to a surge in demand at hotels, restaurants, bars, music venues, and tourist sites. It’s also possible that it will take years for the sector to return to pre-covid levels of activity. Operating a small business is challenging in any economy, and many locations will have closed permanently by the time cities can fully re-open.
As the city works to emerge from the current crisis, it will be important that we continue to work to diversify the types of work available.
As we have seen throughout our history, concentrated employment in a few sectors can lead to rapid growth – but also steeper declines when faced with global shocks.
|Weekly Postings, Jan. 24th – Jan 30th||Percentage Change from Feb 15th||Week over Week|
|Industry||Phila Metro||Phila City||Phila Metro||Phila City||Phila Metro||Phila City|
|Health Care & Social Assistance||2409||727||-39%||-43%||-22%||-11%|
|Professional, Scientific & Tech Services||1289||617||-20%||-8%||12%||15%|
|Finance & Insurance||1208||384||-16%||-27%||2%||13%|
|Accommodation & Food Service||602||161||-46%||-72%||-32%||-30%|
|Administrative & Support & Waste Mgmt||632||141||-30%||-38%||5%||25%|
|Transportation & Warehousing||376||104||-49%||-41%||-23%||-10%|
|Real Estate & Rental Leasing||232||80||-31%||-36%||-17%||-32%|
|Arts, Entertainment & Recreation||84||41||-43%||-33%||-16%||-18%|
|Mining, Quarrying and Oil & Gas||31||11||-21%||0%||35%||120%|
|Mgmt of Companies & Enterprises||11||4||-75%||-64%||-42%||-43%|
|Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Hunting||20||5||0%||0%||-49%||-44%|