Philadelphia named one of the worst cities overall to raise a family, but we’re not the poorest

Temporary art installation in LOVE Park that reads I HEART ICON PHILLY with City Hall and Love Park's fountains in the background.
One of the park spaces that might’ve helped, or hurt, our ranking was the new LOVE Park. (Photograph courtesy of the Office of the City Representative on Twitter.)

In a recent analysis of park space, poverty, crime, and other factors, data crunchers over at personal finance website WalletHub have determined that Philadelphia is one of the worst places in the United States to raise a family.

While the news isn’t great, it reveals something that is, in fact, kind of good news for Philly: the ignoble designation of being America’s poorest big city has never been, and still isn’t, terribly accurate unless you narrowly define city and only look at the top ten in raw population. Many other cities are, in fact, worst than Philadelphia in terms of poverty, including Detroit, Louisville, Buffalo, Cincinatti, and, Cleveland.


Source: WalletHub


Now, whether you think raw population is at all a useful ranking is up to you. That is, it’s a question about whether Philadelphia has more in common with a city like Boston than it does a sprawling consolidated suburb united by highways featuring a number of different police and fire departments like Houston. If you think it’s more like Boston and comparisons are more apt there, then you probably won’t find raw population useful since Boston doesn’t even crack the top 10 cities in America in terms of population. Both Philly and Houston do, though.

When looking at a holistic set of figures and ditching the strict definition of “big city” to only mean the top 10 in raw population, Philly’s 23.1 percent poverty rate disappears into an average abyss. In fact, in an analysis of poverty done by Forbes in 2021, Philadelphia didn’t even crack the top 20 cities for poverty, which saw their rates soar as high as 39 percent in Detroit’s case to the low, compared to the rest of the list, 26.2 percent rate of Waco, Texas. If Waco seems a little small to compare to Philly, Cincinnati, Ohio was 26.3 percent in the same report.

In other words, it’s questionable why “America’s poorest big city” is frequently used to excuse weak tax receipts or as rationalization for allowing the local quirk, “The Philly Shrug,” to go on unabated. That idiosyncratic rhetorical tic is informally known as the ambivalent shrug people give in response to everything ranging from corruption to ineptitude in municipal service delivery. Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Helen Ubinas coined the phrase nearly a decade ago.

The most mixed aspect of the analysis likely comes by way of WalletHub’s “family fun” category, which takes a look at total park space, bike rental facilities, walkability, and sports fan friendliness – come on, really –  among other metrics. In that category, Philly’s measly 136th leapfrogs over 100 slots to the 10th best in the nation. This isn’t terribly surprising given the city’s walkability and consistent rankings on similar lists.

Still, it’s hard to view even the parks news as totally good given the release containing WalletHub ranking and the fact that Philly seemed poised to become one of the best spots to visit in the world at the start of Mayor Jim Kenney’s first term. Multiple rankings put the city in the top three at that time. Lately, and after the COVID-19 pandemic rocked economies globally, we’re not even opening all the pools.


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