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Mind the Gap: Racial Income Inequality in Philadelphia and What You Can do About it

By Benjamin Wolf, Contributing Editor

Philadelphia, like most other corners of America, has a problem with economic racial equality. The median household income for black families in Philadelphia is roughly half that of their white counterparts, while black residents experience poverty at over double the rate of white residents. In addition to this, black Philadelphians own less property despite making up a greater share of the city’s population than any other demographic. A combination of discriminatory housing policies, segregation, and the loss of approximately 25 % of all jobs in the manufacturing sector over the course of a decade, has led to the exclusion of black residents from sharing in the economic fruits of the city.  According to the Pew Charitable Trust’s State of the City report, roughly 80 % of businesses in Philadelphia are white owned despite only accounting for one third of the city’s population.

The ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic has only served to further exacerbate the problem. As reported by the Washington Post last month, 40 % of all black business owners in America have lost their livelihoods as a result of social distancing measures put in place to slow the spread of the virus.  The Federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program, a program designed to offer financial assistance to small business impacted by the Coronavirus through the use of low to no interest loans to keep employees on payroll, has proven ineffective, with over 95 % of black owned businesses being found ineligible for loans through the program.  In an effort to support black owned businesses in the Philadelphia area that have been negatively impacted by the pandemic, and to show solidarity with the black community in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and resulting protests for justice and racial equality, it is our duty to offer steps you can take to directly make a difference. 

#1. Buy from Black Owned Businesses (Apps, online resources)

The most personal and most immediate action any of us can take is to spend discretionary income at black owned businesses.  As of 2017, only 2.4 % of all businesses in Philadelphia were black owned and, with the heightened risk of businesses going under due to social distancing measures, there has never been a better time to help expand their customer base.

If you are interested in finding black businesses near you, we have gathered a list of resources that can help you get started.

Food:

  • Black and Mobile is a food delivery start-up based in Philadelphia that seeks to connect consumers with black owned restaurants.  The free app is available for both iOS and Android devices with services currently being offered in the Philadelphia, Detroit, and Atlanta areas.
  • EatOkra, an app that has been dubbed “a black response to Yelp”, functions as a directory of black owned restaurants broken down by city.  The app allows individuals to submit their favorite restaurants into the directory where users can then rate and review at their discretion.

Retail, Specialty, and Services:

  • AfroPhilly is a lifestyle website focused on black businesses, events, and news in the Philadelphia area.  The website boasts a directory of local black owned businesses and entertainment activities, while also running spotlight articles across a variety of topics from successful black Philadelphians to work being done by the Philadelphia city council.
  • Official Black Wall Street is an online platform that connects users to everything from clothing to construction services and beyond.  The website features a directory of businesses that are filterable by location, as well as an online shop with Official Black Wall Street merchandise.

#2. Contact Your Representatives

Expressing our concerns to our elected officials is an effective way to push for racial equality via progressive legislation.  Much of the conversation around addressing racial income inequality in the Philadelphia area has centered around policies such as raising Pennsylvania’s minimum wage, increasing investment in education, and access to financial services. 

If you are unsure of who your representatives are, there is an online database available on a local, state, and national level here.  After entering your address information, the platform matches you with your elected officials while also providing their contact information, access to their social media pages, and official government websites.  The database includes positions from city council to congress and beyond.

For those interested in reaching out via email this sample letter is a great starting point for delivering your message.

#3. Get Involved

In 2018, the City of Philadelphia committed itself to the Racial Equity Here initiative.  A national effort through the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE), the initiative spans five US cities and is intended to connect individuals and governments with community-action organizations focused on addressing wellbeing gaps that have grown as a result of racial inequality.  Racial Equity Here hosts an interactive database of organizations filterable by location, their issue area of expertise, and organizations type.

There are a multitude of community action organizations in Philadelphia that have dedicated themselves to achieving a secure and equitable future for African Americans and other POCs.  Many of these organizations accept donations and are often open to volunteers and new members supporting their mission.  You can explore some of these through Racial Equity Here’s

Bread and Roses, an organization that channels funding to groups seeking to make positive change a reality in Philadelphia, offers grants of $10,000 through its Racial and Economic Justice Fund every year.  Bread and Roses maintains a running list of organizations that have received their grants which is accessible here for anyone who would like to learn more about these community based organizations.  

The problem of racial inequality in Philadelphia will not be solved overnight.  Through the efforts of governments, activists, and everyday people like you, we can spark the change that is needed to make Philadelphia, and the world, a better place to live.

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David Sherwin

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