Young people looking for jobs may find that Philadelphia is not a strong city for employment opportunities.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s most recent jobs report, unemployment for adults aged 16 to 24 in Philadelphia was 16.4 percent, double the national average for all adults of 8.2 percent.
Larry Eichel, the project director of the Philadelphia Research Initiative at the Pew Charitable Trusts, felt that the unemployment situation in Philadelphia is broadly in line with economic problems nationally, however.
“Philadelphia is not actually terrible. If you go to any major city, you will find those rates,” he said.
He added that unemployment among those in their 20s has historically been higher than for those in older age groups.
Patricia Rose, director of Career Services, also felt that the high unemployment rate in Philadelphia should not be a major concern to Penn students.
“Penn students will get hired … the problem is that Philadelphia needs more opportunities of the kind that Penn students want,” she said. She added that Penn students typically focus on the quality of job opportunities available to them before committing to any one location to live.
In spite of high unemployment many young people continue to migrate to the city. A report by the Philadelphia Research Initiative, showed that the Philadelphia’s population of young adults between the age of 20 and 34 grew by 50,306 to 25.7 percent of the city’s overall population.
Eichel felt that factors such as lifestyle and recreational opportunities, as well as a relatively modest cost of living, are attracting young people to Philadelphia.
“There are many students who want to live in New York, but my sense is that many [Penn students] would be happy to stay here,” Rose added.
She said Philadelphia’s biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and nonprofit sectors are typically strong recruiters of Penn students.
While Philadelphia’s overall unemployment rate fell from 11.5 percent to 10.5 percent from 2010 to 2011 — and certain industries, including the technology sector, may be looking to hire, there may be structural problems underlying Philadelphia’s poor performance.
“We have seen an increase in the number of young adults coming here. If they can’t find career opportunities, it’s hard to see how this trend will stick,” Eichel said.
“The problem isn’t that there aren’t enough jobs for people with education, it’s that there aren’t enough people with education,” Eichel said.
Laura Wolf-Powers, an assistant professor at the Department of City and Regional Planning in the School of Design, agreed that low educational attainment is a problem for Philadelphia.
“Employers are directed to places with high skill … and economic viability increasingly depends on some sort of post-secondary school credentials,” she said.
Wolf-Powers added that focusing just on Philadelphia’s lack of degree holders may not be the whole story, however.
“There are ways to increase skills in the population without increasing the BA attainment rate,” she said, adding that technical and vocational training may offer more prospects for some students.
Structural issues among the Philadelphia workforce may also have deeper roots. Wolf-Powers felt the focus in high schools on sending students to four-year college degree programs, along with the stigma of following alternative career paths, lead many students to enroll in college education but then fail to graduate.
She added that more pre-kindergarten programs, which prepare infants for formal schooling, would improve students’ scholastic performance throughout their academic careers.
“In any city with high poverty and low educational attainment, you can either improve the city’s amenities or fix up its educational systems to attract employment,” she said.
In spite of these problems, Wolf-Powers was more optimistic about the job prospect for young Philadelphians.
“This generation is better than previous ones at improvisation,” she said. “There are people doing freelance work, people entering technology start-ups. Young people will find ways to create work.”Comments powered by Disqus
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