Philadelphia is ‘America’s poorest big city.’ Here’s what that actually means

This story is from Young, Unhoused and Unseen, a podcast production from WHYY News and Temple University’s Logan Center for Urban Investigative Reporting.

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Poverty is as synonymous with the city of Philadelphia as the Liberty Bell.

The persistence of the problem created a phrase that is as common as the issue itself: Philadelphia is “America’s poorest big city.”

When data researchers use the term, it has a specific definition. Out of the top 10 most populous cities across the United States, Philadelphia has the highest poverty rate.

“I think Mayor [Jim] Kenney must have said it 40 or 50 or more times. I hear community leaders say it and I would say at this point, the phrase is legendary,” Democratic state Senator Art Haywood said.

He said he’s heard the expression more times than he can count. His district spans across Northwest Philadelphia and the southern tip of Montgomery County.

Haywood said Germantown, which is in his district, is among the poorest neighborhoods in the city — and that the expression has reached its shelf life as a constructive way to advocate for needed policy changes.

“It is not helpful at all whatsoever. I have not found it to be effective in any kind of argument for support. It sounds often just as a routine excuse for current conditions,” Haywood said.

  • January 10, 2024
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