Comparing the City of Brotherly Love with Motown: Reflections on How to Effectively Transform Urban Economies

By Martin Lavelle

When I think of Philadelphia, the following subjects come to my mind: Benjamin Franklin, Betsy Ross, the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution. Also, being a sports fan, I think of what a great sports city it is: There’s quite a passionate fan base for its professional teams, as well as Big 5 college basketball at the Palestra. Admittedly, as someone who works in and studies Detroit, it doesn’t naturally occur to me to compare Detroit and Philadelphia like I would Detroit and Pennsylvania’s other major city, Pittsburgh, with its historical reliance on one manufacturing sector, steel. However, as I looked more deeply into Philadelphia’s history, I found myself drawing multiple parallels between the Motor City and the City of Brotherly Love.

On September 21–23, 2016, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, other Federal Reserve Banks, and additional sponsors and supporters convened the Seventh Biennial Reinventing Our Communities Conference. The theme of this year’s conference was how to transform our economies. The conference’s sessions covered topics such as how to increase access to capital, how to supply a greater stock of affordable housing and address workforce needs, and how to make philanthropic foundations play a more effective role in communities’ economic transformations. This conference provided an opportunity for me to learn about initiatives in other communities and compare them with developments in Detroit. This will be the first of two blog entries in which I discuss the conference and some of my own analysis inspired by it. Here I will draw some historical and current comparisons between Detroit and Philadelphia. In my follow-up blog post, I will recap the conference and compare Detroit’s efforts to transform its economy with ongoing efforts occurring across the country.

Background

As part of my usual preparation for a conference (especially when a city tour is included), I did a statistical comparison of Detroit and Philadelphia. The table below shows the statistical similarities and differences I found most interesting between the two cities.

portland-chart-1

Note: MSA means metropolitan statistical area.
Source: QuickFacts Beta, U.S. Census Bureau.

The population figures stand out for many reasons. First, it’s easy to forget that back in 1950, when their populations peaked, Detroit and Philadelphia were similarly sized cities. Nowadays, just six and a half decades later, Philadelphia has almost two and a half times as many people as Detroit. Back in the middle of the twentieth century, the population of each city made up around 57% of its respective metropolitan area. But as of last year, Philadelphia’s population share of its metropolitan area (26%) was noticeably larger than Detroit’s population share (16%) of its metropolitan area. The fact that Philadelphia’s population increased over the past 15 years boosted the divergence in population trends. Over the period 2000–15, Philadelphia added almost 50,000 people, while Detroit lost 274,154 people. In terms of demographics, Philadelphia is much more diverse. Also, a higher percentage of Philadelphia’s population has attained a bachelor’s degree or higher—thanks in part to the University City neighborhood, anchored by the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University, and the presence of many other institutions of higher learning within the city’s limits. Given the divergence in demographics, the difference in home values isn’t surprising, but it still jumps off the page.

Philadelphia’s Financial Challenges

Like Detroit, Philadelphia has encountered fiscal challenges. And like Detroit, Philadelphia’s financial problems simmered for many years before boiling over in the early 1990s. The City of Brotherly Love became the first U.S. city to impose an income tax when it did so in 1939. (1) Philadelphia’s income tax remained in a range of 1.0% to 1.5% until the 1960s, when it started to increase, eventually reaching 3.0% in 1970 and almost 5% in 1985. (2) The increase in the city’s income tax rate was one of the leading factors in city residents deciding to leave for suburban communities. Philadelphia’s fiscal crisis peaked in 1990–91 when a structural budget deficit of $154 million was revealed, with expectations of deeper budget deficits in future years. (3) The city received financial assistance in the form of the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority (PICA). PICA sold bonds on Philadelphia’s behalf. It also required the city to adopt a five-year financial plan that had to be approved in order to gain access to capital markets and state funding. (4) Led by Mayor Ed Rendell, the city followed its five-year plan while privatizing selected services, introducing more competitive bidding for city projects, and freezing wages for city employees, all of which helped lead to Philadelphia’s recovery in the late-1990s. (5) Philadelphia also began lowering its commuter tax in 1995, converging city and suburban residents’ respective tax burdens. (6) It has been estimated that increases in Philadelphia’s city wage tax cost the city 207,000 jobs from 1973 to 2003. (7) Two separate tax commissions created in the 2000s concluded Philadelphia’s tax system was outdated and needed to be reformed. (8) In 2014, the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce released a public/private collaborative plan with the aim of organizing growth-based activity in and around Philadelphia. The chamber’s plan called for improving the city’s competitiveness, producing a well-educated workforce, creating an environment for business growth, and enhancing Philadelphia’s infrastructure. Such efforts will have a familiar ring to Detroiters too.

West Mount Airy: A Gift to Philadelphia from Detroit

The conference began with a tour of Philadelphia’s West Mount Airy neighborhood, one of the nation’s first intentionally racially integrated neighborhoods. The effort to preserve racial diversity within West Mount Airy was led by West Mount Airy Neighbors (WMAN). WMAN was founded in 1959 to deal specifically with the issue of racial integration. (9) One of the founders of WMAN was George Schermer, who tried to organize a similar effort in Detroit before coming to Philadelphia.

After Detroit’s 1943 Belle Isle uprising, Mayor Edward Jeffries formed an Interracial Commission and appointed Schermer as its director. (10) In the early 1950s, Schermer lobbied for an integrated housing development in Detroit’s west side. The development was to be called Schoolcraft Gardens. The Schoolcraft Gardens development attracted private funding and the United Auto Workers (UAW) as a partner. (11) Unfortunately, multiple forces prevented the integrated development from taking shape. First, the neighboring, all-white Tel-Craft homeowners association opposed the Schoolcraft Gardens development. Also, later on, a different Detroit mayor, Mayor Alfred Cobo, vetoed the approval of the development project. Soon afterward, the Interracial Commission was dissolved and replaced by the Commission on Community Relations, whose members would be appointed and could be removed without cause by the mayor. (12) Not surprisingly, when the City of Philadelphia offered Schermer the opportunity to head its newly created Commission on Human Relations, Schermer left Detroit. (13)

Under Schermer’s leadership, WMAN fought housing and education policies that advocated for segregation. WMAN and the neighborhood itself consisted of high-achieving, well-educated, progressively minded people, who were the demographic they looked to attract to the neighborhood. One might argue this allowed integration to work, whereas Detroit saw comparatively less educated groups across different races compete for similar jobs and economic standing, putting the groups at odds with each other.

Impressively, the commitment to diversity in West Mount Airy remains strong. Since 1980, at least 40% of West Mount Airy’s residents have been African Americans. (14) According to Sarah Zelner, who presented background information about West Mount Airy during the conference tour, the neighborhood has a strong LGBTQ presence, in addition to being diverse in terms of race and education. Efforts to maintain the neighborhood’s diversity and affirm its commitment to open dialogue include the long-running Mt. Airy youth baseball league and, more recently, monthly conversations about racial issues. In the evening of the day of the tour, the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare shut down and turned into a street fair that showcased West Mount Airy’s diverse restaurant community.

All that said, the neighborhood isn’t without its challenges. Between 1950 and 2010, West Mount Airy lost around half of its population. This loss in population has impacted the dynamics of the neighborhood in many ways, especially in terms of its educational offerings. The high school located in West Mount Airy closed in 2013—a direct result of the population loss, as well as more-affluent students enrolling in private schools in other neighborhoods. In addition, while the overall racial diversity of West Mount Airy has been maintained, African Americans have been clustering closer to the East Mount Airy and East Germantown neighborhoods, which are both predominantly black. (15) While traveling through the area, I noticed a contrast between West Mount Airy with its homes constructed of stone native to the area and East Mount Airy with housing stock of relatively poorer quality. To combat population loss and preserve the neighborhood’s identity, West Mount Airy is trying to attract more immigrants, highlighting the neighborhood’s cultural history and mixed small business community as selling points.

Gifts in Return from Philadelphia? Possible Lessons for Detroit

The background material I read on Philadelphia’s West Mount Airy neighborhood discussed housing density (as measured, for example, by homes per city block) and its correlation with racial integration. The material cited multiple studies that suggested lower housing density is more amenable to achieving greater racial diversity. (16) This might be one lesson from Philadelphia’s experiences that Detroit might want to apply as it remakes itself. The Motor City is seeking to create dense and diverse population centers within its borders, as it once had decades ago. Part of this goal is being achieved by removing blight. But as neighborhoods are reorganized, city officials may want to keep in mind how racial integration was achieved in Philadelphia and not make the housing density of newly configured neighborhoods too high. Striking the right balance between population and housing density to achieve better racial integration and higher-level services for all citizens than at present will be a challenge, but Detroit can look to some of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods for some examples to follow.

Widening the focus back to the entire city, I think the topic of city residents’ tax burdens should be explored in greater depth. As mentioned previously during my review of background material on Philadelphia and as discussed somewhat during the conference, Philadelphia has reformed its tax system in order to have the tax burden of its citizens be more similar to that of residents in the surrounding suburbs. This is yet another lesson Detroit officials might learn from Philadelphia in order to draw more people to reside within its borders. Indeed, Detroit may want to look to reform its tax system as well. When studying the tax burdens of the largest city in each state and Washington, DC, (17) the total tax payments expected from Detroiters as a percentage of their income rank in the top five. (18) When breaking down tax payments by category, Detroiters’ income tax burden ranks near the top for families making $50,000 or more, and their property tax burden is the highest among the states’ largest cities and Washington, DC. (19) While Detroiters’ sales, use, and gasoline tax burdens rank relatively low, significantly high auto insurance premiums more than make up for it. Detroiters pay more than twice as much as the next city (New Orleans) and over three and a half times more than Philadelphia, which ranks tenth. (20) Current Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan has proposed legislation that would create an auto insurance product specific to Detroit, though this proposal has its critics. (21)

Following what initiatives are and aren’t working in other cities and informing city officials and stakeholders about the results of those different initiatives is important to Detroit’s rebound. This is one of the main reasons why I attended this year’s Reinventing Our Communities Conference. The Detroit Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago serves the function as information gatherer for the mayor’s Post-Bankruptcy Working Group, as well as the city’s group that works on affordable housing efforts. Efforts to strengthen communities in Detroit and elsewhere through philanthropic, private, and public partnerships have become more widespread in recent years. The Federal Reserve—especially the Detroit Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago—has played a major role in bringing different types of organizations together generate solutions that will benefit those communities for years to come.

Read my next blog entry to get more details on the conference panels that I participated in.

References
(1) See p. 3 of http://economyleague.org/uploads/files/783716581668902685-the-sterling-act-a-brief-history.pdf
(2) Ibid.
(3) See p. 5 of https://www.philadelphiafed.org/-/media/research-and-data/publications/business-review/1992/brso92rl.pdf?la=en.
(4) See p. 1 of http://www.picapa.org/docs/SRFYP/SRFYP_FY16FY20.pdf.
(5) See http://www.nytimes.com/1994/05/22/magazine/mayor-on-a-roll-ed-rendell.html.
(6) See p. 31 of http://www.philadelphiafed.org/research-and-data/publications/business-review/2003/q2/brq203ri.pdf.
(7) See p. 27 of http://www.philadelphiafed.org/research-and-data/publications/business-review/2003/q2/brq203ri.pdf.
(8) See p. 15 of http://www.centercityphila.org/docs/CCR14_employment.pdf.
(9) See p. 42 of Barbara Ferma, Theresa Singleton, and Don DeMarco, 1998, “Chapter 3: West Mount Airy,” Cityscape: A Journal of Policy Development and Research, Vol. 4, No. 2, pp. 29–59, https://www.huduser.gov/Periodicals/CITYSCPE/VOL4NUM2/ch3.pdf
(10) See p. 1 of https://libdigital.temple.edu/pdfa1/Oral%20Histories/AOHWMPJZ2015030001Q01.pdf.
(11) See p. 76 of Lloyd D. Buss, 2008, “Chapter 2: City Influences Religion’s Response,” The Church and The City: Detroit’s Open Housing Movement, University of Michigan, PhD dissertation, https://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/handle/2027.42/61748/ldbuss_1.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.
(12) See Buss (2008, p. 77).
(13) See Ferma, Singleton, and DeMarco (1998, p. 42).
(14) The share of African Americans residing in West Mount Airy was 41% as of the 2010 U.S. Census.
(15) See http://philadelphiaencyclopedia.org/archive/mount-airy-west/.
(16) See Ferma, Singleton, and DeMarco (1998, p. 41).
(17) See pp. 12-21, 24 of http://cfo.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/ocfo/publication/attachments/2014%2051City%20Study.final_.pdf.
(18) This ranking does not apply when examining families making less than $50,000 per year. A family is assumed to be made up of two income earners and one school-age child. See p. 13 of http://cfo.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/ocfo/publication/attachments/2014%2051City%20Study.final_.pdf.
(19) See pp. 16, 31 of http://cfo.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/ocfo/publication/attachments/2014%2051City%20Study.final_.pdf.
(20) See https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/studies/expensive-cities-car-insurance/.
(21) See http://www.detroitnews.com/story/opinion/2016/03/23/detroit-insurance-cut-rate-policy/82194396/.

Health Care in America with Nancy Schlichting

By Paul Traub

U.S. consumers are reported to be spending an ever increasing amount of their personal income on health care each year. According to Personal Consumption Expenditures data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), consumers spent close to $2.0 trillion on health care in the United States in 2014. Based on this, spending in 2014 on health care was equal to 11.5% of total gross domestic product (GDP). The Affordable Care Act (ACA, P.L. 111-148) together with the Health Care and Education Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-152) expanded access to health care coverage for millions of Americans who were without health insurance. The ACA (also known as Obama Care) has been the center of much debate and has been cited by some as a major impediment to job creation since it requires employers with more than 50 full-time employees to provide health care insurance for their workers. Between 1980 and 2010, the compound growth rate in inflation-adjusted health care spending equaled just 4.9%./1 As Chart 1 below illustrates, in the four years since then per capita spending on health care has increased by about 10%. But should all of the concern about health care be just focused on cost or are there other issues just as important that should be discussed? In an effort to get a better understanding of the issues surrounding health care and the ACA, the Detroit Association of Business Economists (D.A.B.E.) presented a program on the state of health care in the U.S. with guest speaker Nancy Schlichting, CEO of Henry Ford Health Systems. Henry Ford Health Systems is a nationally recognized $4.0 billion health care organization with 23,000 employees.

Chart 1

Schlichting opened her presentation by pointing out that health care is one of those services about which everyone has an opinion and that opinion is often based on personal experience. While the experiences that form a person’s opinion can at times be positive, more times than not they are likely to negative. Witnessing a sick parent or family member go through a difficult time is often the experience that people remember. Schlichting highlighted three important features of health care.

First, health care matters most when you need it. Schlichting went on to explain that the perceived need for health care is much different for someone who is healthy than for someone who has experienced a debilitating illness. When people are young and haven’t experienced many medical difficulties, they often believe they are immune to illness. Older individuals, who are more likely to have seen someone else go through a medical problem, more easily recognize their own frailties. This leads people to recognize a need for insurance against the unknown. The same need to be prepared for anything is felt more strongly by someone who is the head of a family or a household more than by someone who has no dependents.

Second, a person who has never been uninsured doesn’t understand what it is like to live without health insurance. It is not widely recognized that many individuals that don’t have insurance do work, often multiple part-time jobs. Schlichting said more than 50% of the people not covered under a health care plan do work and many of them are young people.

Third, the American health care system is the most complex in the world. Consumers often don’t understand how their coverage works and what is covered and what isn’t. This complexity also adds cost to the system. It is estimated that $0.25 of every dollar spent on health care in the United States goes to cover administration costs. This complexity has also led to the need for more administrative staff than care givers in some institutions. The confusing process is also one of the reasons that uncompensated care is still rising. Consumers find it difficult to navigate through the complexity of the system of co-pays and deductibles, Schlichting argued, and often choose to ignore a bill that they believe is the responsibility of the insurance company.

Schlichting said, in her view, the passage of the ACA will be a positive for the industry in the long run. Hospitals and health care providers have been working to improve services and lower costs and are doing so by concentrating on some specific areas. Schlichting said the largest opportunities for improvements are related to the incentives the ACA provides to improve the quality of health care procedures. For example, the act imposes penalties on hospitals for readmitting patients. This is forcing providers to do a better job in caring for their patients and making sure they are ready to be released. Another way to help eliminate frequent trips to the hospital is to provide patients with the ability to share information with their care giver either by phone or email. Schlichting’s company is also trying to improve quality by studying other models of success and adopting reliable quality systems, such as the Six Sigma process, The Deming Institutes quality management principles, and Baldrige performance programs. These processes are helping to lower costs while improving the patient’s experience, which is an important aspect of success in the highly competitive health care industry.

What does the future hold? The health care industry will continue to change, Schlichting said, as providers work to reduce cost and improve care. The consolidation of hospitals, physician practices, and insurance companies will most likely continue as part of the industry’s overall efforts to cut costs. The marketing of health care services is also likely to become more important, she pointed out, as providers recognize the need to market to individuals who are opting out of group coverage and shopping for their own coverage on health care exchanges.

1/ Current dollar BEA PCE health care spending was adjusted for inflation using PCE chain-type index.