The white shift out of Philly

263,000 went in last 20 years

Posted: June 02, 2011

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This story is part of a series on the changing face of Philadelphia as reflected in the new 2010 census figures.

AFTER SANDER Schlichter finished his anesthesiology residency at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in 2005, he and his partner, Charlie Burrus, moved from their city apartment to Montgomery County. They wanted a yard where their two dogs could roam free. A swimming pool. And a garden.

Plus, "I like to park," said Burrus, 41, who deplores the lack of parking spots in the city. "And I don't like gunshots. And I was getting tired of hearing about people getting mugged."

Tobylynn Lichtenstein moved out of the city to Montgomery County in 2007 so she could be closer to her daughter's private school on the Main Line.

A single mother and interior designer, she used to drive her daughter, Marquis-Elyse, 11, to and from their Queen Village home to the Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr. "By the time she was in second grade, I was exhausted," the mother said.

Her daughter now attends Welsh Valley Middle School in the Lower Merion School District. "Baldwin's a great school" and "Lower Merion is so amazing," the mother said earlier this week.

They are just a few of the white residents who helped fuel an overall decline of the white population in Philadelphia over the past two decades.

The city's white population dropped by nearly a third, 263,254 people, from 1990 to 2010, representing a larger numerical decrease "than the entire population of Buffalo, N.Y.," according to a report released yesterday by the Pew Charitable Trust's Philadelphia Research Initiative.

Northeast Philadelphia, particularly the lower Northeast, saw a significant drop in whites. The Northeast declined from 92 percent white in 1990 to 58.3 percent white in 2010. At the same time, the black, Hispanic and Asian populations grew.

The Pew report was based on census data from 1990 to 2010 compiled by Michelle Schmitt, project coordinator at Temple University's Metropolitan Philadelphia Indicators Project, who examined the data by ZIP codes.

"In 1990, Philadelphia was a city understood largely in terms of white and black," said the report, authored by Larry Eichel, project director of the Philadelphia Research Initiative.

"At the time, it was a majority-white city with a large black minority and small groups of Hispanics and Asians. Two decades later, it is a plurality-black city with a large but dwindling white minority and rapidly expanding contingents of Hispanics and Asians."

The white decline is "mostly driven by mobility" as opposed to changes in fertility or death rates, said Emilio Parrado, associate director of the Population Studies Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

Whites have been moving to the suburbs for "better schools, bigger houses," he said. And some have been lured to the South for jobs.

White flight was more pronounced in the 1970s because of deindustrialization, crime and schools, Parrado said, and while that decline has eased in recent years, it continues.

Typical of those leaving are Dara Newman and her husband, who left Center City - which has seen an increase in whites in the past two decades - to Lower Merion in 2003 for more living space and closet space, she said. In their previous one-bedroom apartment, her husband's clothes closet was the hallway closet. Since moving, their family has grown. They now have twins, a boy and girl age 5, and another girl who's almost 3. Newman, 38, said they also moved to Lower Merion because it has "a great school district."

Other findings of the report:

  • The city's black population has shifted away from North and West Philly to Southwest Philly, Overbrook and the lower Northeast. Jordyn Harris, 19, said in an interview earlier this year that her family moved from Germantown to Crescentville about 11 years ago for a bigger house and because "my parents like this area."
    • The city's Hispanic population moved beyond its traditional North 5th Street corridor to areas such as the lower Northeast. Parts of South Philly also saw large increases in Hispanics.
    • Asians saw big increases in the Northeast, South Philly and University City.

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