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[Ben Kowitt/The Daily Pennsylvanian]

Growing up, "the city" always meant New York City; there was never any substitute, never any misunderstanding as to what such a broad phrase could signify. From my earliest memories, New York embodied the culture, history, mayhem, beauty and wealth of the entire world. Before high school, I had traveled to cities in over 40 states and still found no rival. To this day, it's New York or bust.

However, Philly still leaves much to be desired in its own right. The first issue of 34th Street I ever saw confirmed my preconceived belief that Philly fell somewhat below the mark. After living in the city for a mere week, I saw Street's feature, with a jump quote reading "Sure, the [Veterans Stadium] was a dump, but for Philly fans, it was home." Feeling validation, I tacked that spread to my wall.

Apparently I'm not the only one harboring this sentiment. Throughout the past several years, Philadelphia has witnessed the mass-exodus of college students from the city upon their graduation. Termed the "brain drain," the dynamic of students fleeing the city is akin to their support of the local football team during their tenure here -- within a proportional time frame, they jump on the Eagles bandwagon, support them while they're good during the season, then promptly abandon them right when the team dependably chokes in the playoffs. It's cyclical, really.

That's probably a little harsh. Then again, it's true. Anyway, stated in mild terms, Philadelphia is struggling ... a lot. Right now this city is hardly a welcoming place for newcomers; few are willing to settle somewhere that appears to be on the verge of implosion, and quite honestly, I can't wholly blame them. Philadelphia needs to retain the young talent it nurtures.

What accounts for this dearth of enlightenment, or at least lack of retention? The transportation system finds itself in a quagmire that only layoffs, fare hikes and reduced services will resolve; City Hall is under ongoing FBI investigation and businesses are escaping the city to New Jersey and suburban Pennsylvania to avoid skyrocketing tax rates. In general, there are few if any incentives to remain in Philly in its current state rather than immigrate elsewhere. Lest we forget, our education system is currently one of the worst in the nation and thus not a great enticement for those looking to eventually start families.

One possible explanation for settling in other cities is the wage tax, instituted during the Great Depression in 1939. The wage tax is particularly burdensome because it affects both city residents and non-city residents who work within Philadelphia; people living in the city pay 4.5 percent of their wages regardless of where their job is, and non-residents pay 3.9 of their wages earned inside the city limits. Clearly, the idea of an additional tax on earnings doesn't provide much motivation to take an already low-paying entry-level position around here.

Furthermore, the Web site states that only four of America's 10 largest cities impose a wage tax, and major cities by and large have not enacted a new wage tax in over 40 years. And unfortunately for workers, Philly's tax isn't going away. IssuesPA also indicates that in fiscal year 2003, "Philadelphia expected to collect 52 [percent] of all local tax revenues from the wage tax. ... [No] city relies on a wage tax like Philadelphia does."

Despite revenues from the wage tax, the city still finds itself scrambling for money. Mayor John Street announced recently that he intends to cut roughly 1,300 jobs from the city payroll in hopes of freeing funds for other endeavors. That's a welcome sign if ever there was one.

Yet, the severity of the so-called "brain drain" depends largely on whom one asks. The Daily Pennsylvanian reported last week that Philadelphia has allegedly earned a reputation nationwide for losing graduates to other cities. Initiatives like Greater Philadelphia First and Keep Philly Competitive are efforts designed to encourage students to remain in the city, but have thus far seen little success. Last June, however, The Philadelphia Inquirer's James O'Neill put the situation in a more positive light, citing a study that said 64 percent of all graduates remain in Philadelphia -- a better retention rate than Boston's.

But O'Neill also concedes that this statistic is somewhat misleading. The above figure includes individuals who are from the region as well as those who are not. The retention rate for newcomers to the area is much less flattering -- a mere 29 percent stay. Boston, in comparison, retains 42 percent of non-natives. O'Neill notes that reaching Boston's rate would add 2,400 jobs to the Philly workforce annually.

Despite everything you've read, it's not all gloom and doom. Philadelphia might not be as glamorous as its neighboring cities, might not have the allure of the West Coast, but it has its appeal. For one, Philly is within striking distance of both New York and Washington, D.C. It's also, in comparison, more affordable to live here than in other cities in the Northeast. But until the city makes some serious progress, it will remain an unattractive destination for graduates.

Michelle Dubert is a College sophomore from Closter, N.J. Department of Strategery appears on Thursdays.

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