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The majority of working Philadelphians are in low-skill jobs.


Philadelphia has a diverse workforce. Building the talents of this workforce is the primary goal of the city’s workforce strategy, Fueling Philadelphia’s Talent Engine. To better understand Philadelphians currently at work, this report examines how working Philadelphia residents are distributed across occupations and skill levels. Philadelphia has a higher percentage of lower-skilled, poorly paid jobs than many other cities, partly due to the large hospitality industry tied to the Pennsylvania Convention Center and the large tourism industry. With a poverty rate of 25.9 percent (American Community Survey 2012 – 2016), we explore the demographics of workers who live in the city across different skill levels to better understand possibilities for career pathway approaches to provide on-ramps to residents looking to advance from low-wage unskilled jobs into middle skilled jobs with living wages. This is the first in a series of reports that will focus on questions of diversity and equity of opportunity. Following reports will focus on the 7 target sectors respectively: healthcare, retail & hospitality, early childhood education, technology services, business & financial services, construction & infrastructure, and manufacturing & logistics.

Our data for this report are from two major sources: the American Community Survey (ACS) Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS) for 2011-2015 and EMSI Q2, 2017 staffing pattern data. ACS PUMS data are self-reported survey data from residents. These data provide demographic information of Philadelphia residents such as gender, race, age, and educational level. Also included are information on a resident’s employment such as the wage earned in past 12 months, work location and working hours in a week. EMSI data are based on the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) data collected by the states and delivered to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. These data are reported by employers and contain valuable information on the entry level education and training, prior experience requirements and median hourly earnings for a specific occupation in a specific county. These two datasets both contain 6-digit Standard Occupational Codes (SOC) which allow us to merge them[1] to analyze the labor market from both the employees’ and the employers’ sides. This report focusses on residents of Philadelphia, that is, by city residence and not by work location.

Based on the entry level education and training requirements, occupations are classified into three skill levels:

  1. High-skill occupations require a Bachelor’s or higher degree.
  2. Middle-skill occupations require an associate degree, postsecondary non-degree award, or some-college but no degree, or a high school degree and one of the following: long-term on-the-job training, moderate-term on-the-job training; or apprenticeship.
  3. Low-skill occupations require less than a high-school degree; or a high school degree with short-term training or no training.

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