What we learned from 2010 Census data

Posted: December 28, 2011

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

THE changing faces of Philadelphia over the past decade brought us new residents Samuel Gomez, who moved to Kensington from Puerto Rico; Dun Yann, a Cambodian refugee now living in South Philly; and Heather McKay, a young suburban professional who wanted to live in Center City.

The city grew from the 2000 to 2010 census. We can thank Puerto Ricans, Hispanic and Asian immigrants and young professionals for that.

That was the big story of this year's 2010 Census data release. Here's what we learned about the changing face of Philadelphia:

* The city's population grew for the first time since 1950. The gain was tiny - only 0.6 percent - but it was enough to boost the number to 1,526,006.

And enough to make Mayor Nutter crow when the results were released in March: "What it really is about is folks recognizing that this city is moving in the right direction. Companies want to be here. We're growing jobs. We've changed some of the culture here in city government, and things are in fact improving."

In an interview this month, Gary Jastrzab, executive director of the City Planning Commission, noted that Philly, "like many other North American large cities," lost population in the post-World War II years up through the end of the century, with people moving to the suburbs.

With the loss of people and jobs, this caused an "isolation of various communities in the city, leading to a concentration of poverty," he said. "It stressed the city's tax base and the performance of the school district."

The recent resurgence in the city's population "speaks to the renaissance the city has experienced in the last decade or so - that city living is very desirable," Jastrzab said.

* Philadelphia is the nation's fifth-largest city in terms of population. The Census Bureau, which had estimated that Phoenix passed Philly in 2005, determined in the actual count from 2010 that either Phoenix's rise never happened or it happened briefly, but didn't stick.

* Helping to drive the city's population increase was an influx of Hispanic and Asian residents.

There was a 46 percent increase in the number of Hispanics (187,611 residents in 2010) and a 42 percent increase in Asians (95,521 last year).

* About half of the city's Hispanic growth came from Puerto Ricans, who are U.S. citizens.

Gomez, a maintenance worker for the nonprofit Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha, a Latino-based health, human-services and economic-development organization in Feltonville, couldn't find a job in Puerto Rico, so he moved to Philadelphia in 2009.

He was one of the influx of 30,116 Puerto Ricans into the city, for a total last year of 122,000 people of Puerto Rican descent, 65 percent of all Hispanics.

The Juniata Park/Feltonville area saw the city's largest increase in Hispanics. Kensington saw the next largest increase. Most Hispanics in this area hail from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, with pockets of Colombians and other South Americans, community leaders say.

People of Mexican origin, with many living in South Philly, increased by about 9,300 people for a total of 15,531 last year, though some observers believe the total is actually higher because of undocumented immigrants.

* Of the new Asian residents, the Chinese population saw the largest increase with 12,286 more people, for a total last year of about 30,000, accounting for a third of Asians in the city.

They included people like John Zhang, 50, who works and lives in the Castor Gardens section of Northeast Philly. He came here in 2004 from Flushing, Queens, in New York because of Philly's lower housing prices and less-congested streets.

Although Zhang is originally from Guangdong Province in southern China, many immigrant Chinese hail from neighboring Fujian Province.

* The city experienced a 12.7 percent decrease in whites from 2000 to 2010, and a very small decrease (0.3 percent) in blacks.

Blacks are still the largest racial group in the city at 42 percent, the same percentage as in 2000, followed by whites at 37 percent.

* The city's Oxford Circle/Castor Gardens neighborhood witnessed the starkest demographic changes over the decade.

The number of black residents grew from 3,855 in 2000 to 15,263 in 2010, while the number of whites fell nearly in half (from 32,419 to 16,178).

Meanwhile, the number of Hispanics more than doubled (from 4,704 in 2000 to 10,317 in 2010), and the number of Asians grew from 3,933 to 9,031.

The main business corridors of Castor and Bustleton avenues reflect this dramatic shift.

Besides a barbershop run by Dominic Muniz, a Puerto Rican, there is a minimarket in the area owned by an Iraqi immigrant and a furniture store and eateries with signs in Chinese. And Brazilian and Hispanic eateries dot the neighborhood.

* Although the Northeast has been growing, North, West and parts of Northwest Philly have continued to show a decline.

This was evidenced in the Cedarbrook, Stenton and Ivy Hill sections - a rectangular pocket of Northwest Philly bordered by Montgomery County.

From 2000 to 2010, this bedroom community of mostly middle-class African-American families lost 2,192 black residents and 181 whites. The gain of other population segments and ethnicities did little to offset the loss.

Neighboring parts of Northwest Philly also saw similar population declines. West Oak Lane and East Mount Airy south of Stenton Avenue each lost about 1,200 people, and East Germantown lost about 1,600 people.

Some residents in and around Cedarbrook attributed the population loss to older folks whose kids have grown up and moved out, who then decided to move to the suburbs, Center City or out of state. Others attributed the decline to people moving out because of a perceived increase in crime, to more youths hanging out on street corners, to a deterioration of the stable family unit.

* In another analysis of city neighborhoods, the Daily News found that the rectangular section of South Philly bounded by 5th, 10th and Mifflin streets and Oregon Avenue witnessed the largest growth in the number of Asians in all of South Philly from 2000 to 2010. The same residential area of two-story rowhouses also attracted the largest concentration of new Hispanic residents in South Philly.

Southeast Asians make up the majority of this part of South Philly's foreign-born population, according to census estimates.

Yann, of Cambodian descent, was born in a Thai refugee camp after his parents escaped their home country during the killing-fields period. His family was relocated by the U.S. government to Atlanta when he was 2, then moved to South Philly in 2003 to be closer to relatives. Three years ago, they opened the corner L&M Variety Store at 5th and Wolf.

* Young adults, ages 20 to 34, also helped spur the city's growth over the last decade. Last year, there were 393,000 people in that age group in the city, accounting for 26 percent of its residents.

McKay was one of the 50,306 new residents in that age group over the decade. She moved to the Rittenhouse Square area from Blue Bell because she wanted an "urban lifestyle."

* Another age category that saw an increase in population was baby boomers ages 55 to 64, with 35,592 more of them living here, particularly in the Northeast, West Mount Airy, Germantown and Center City. Some of that was due to empty-nesters deciding to move into the city to take advantage of a more cultural lifestyle.

* Besides Center City, another neighborhood that grew was Northern Liberties - once a sooty industrial area with tanneries, breweries, cigar factories and gunmaking shops. NoLibs grew by 2,121 residents from 2000 to 2010, a 60 percent gain, to a total population of 5,635, becoming a hip destination for artists, families with young children and single professionals.

It also added about 1,500 housing units over the decade - thanks mostly to developer Bart Blatstein's Piazza at Schmidts and Liberties Walk apartments, and developer Doron Gelfand's Waterfront Square condos.

* Philly's median age dropped from 34.2 years in 2000 to 33.5 in 2010. Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, director of outreach and program evaluation at the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians, attributed the decline to younger people moving into the city, including immigrants in their prime working years.

In contrast, Pennsylvania as a whole grew older over the decade - from a median age of 38 in 2000 to 40.1 in 2010.

The state's aging population has been one of the underreported stories from the census data, Bergson-Shilcock said.

* While many look at the increase in the city's population, the reverse story is that the city's white population has 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 in June 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.

* Another neighborhood examined by the Daily News this year was Southwest Center City - bounded by South Street and Washington Avenue, Broad Street and the Schuylkill.

According to census data, the neighborhood witnessed a drop of about 4,000 black residents and an increase of about 4,200 white residents. There was also an increase of about 600 Hispanic and Asian residents combined.

Nowhere in the city was the population shift between black and white residents as dramatic as in this gentrifying neighborhood just south of the former Graduate Hospital.

Some African-Americans interviewed by the Daily News attributed the change in demographics to real-estate developers, who have been buying homes in the area, renovating them and driving up housing values. Blacks, who could no longer afford homes there, moved to other neighborhoods.

* David Bartelt, a Temple University professor who specializes in housing issues, said one major thing that stood out for him in the 2010 Census data was the decline in owner-occupied housing in the city from 2000 to 2010.

Of the total number of occupied housing units, 59 percent were owner-occupied (vs. renter-occupied) in 2000. That percentage dropped to 54 percent in 2010.

Bartelt attributes this to a "combination of the economy and the shortage of home-mortgage funds" and says that "for a city like Philadelphia, which has long been a benchmark for home ownership, it's a significant drop."

While the city has positive elements going for it, Bartelt fears "the reduced rates of home ownership will affect the livability and social health of many neighborhoods in the city."

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