BY: WILFORD SHAMLIN
A top official for a workforce development agency on Thursday hailed a new report for tracing the cause of poverty in the city to the decline of manufacturing jobs and the rise of service sector jobs.
Gregory Holston, a Philadelphia native and chief executive for the Opportunities Industrialization Center of America, Inc., said the report, “Black Work Matters: Race, Poverty and the Future of Work in Philadelphia,” does an “excellent” job in providing a “historical perspective on the loss of manufacturing jobs and plants that were in the area.
He said he thinks often on the impact on his parishioners who live nearby in North Philadelphia.
“That’s personal to me because of unemployment and poverty and people that I serve,” said Holston, a Methodist minister. “Just to know that the area once flourished with a multitude of job opportunities, and it’s now diminished by the public policy over the course of 50 years.”
The report highlights what union workers see as inequities in hiring that has led to higher numbers of minorities in lower paying jobs from housekeepers, cooks and dishwashers to fast food workers and restaurant hosts. It was released during a day-long summit at the Community College of Philadelphia.
Holston said much of the narrative on rampant poverty has focused on the after-effects such as high crime rates. unemployment and incarceration rates in certain ZIP codes across the city.
“We don’t talk about the cause,” said Holston, who called the devastating effect on members of his congregation “heart-breaking.”
Organizers of the study announced a 12-point plan to address rampant poverty during a rally scheduled for Thursday night in Center City. The report highlights the effects of the demise of the industrial revolution, which brought prosperity to Philadelphia. However community and church leaders say they see a polarizing effect with diverging outcomes for minority residents and nonwhites.
Organizers say Philadelphia has become a travel destination with top tourist attractions, arts and culture, enjoying record levels of hotel bookings, corporate profits but to the benefit of a small percentage of people earning the highest incomes.
“It’s not accidental,” Baptist minister Leslie Callahan said at the summit’s morning session.
The authors say the study shows the impact of job losses, school closures and mass incarceration and changes in the economy on the local workforce, and it also connects the issue of race to employment opportunities. Organizers and their throng of supporters plan to take up the issue more in depth before City Council’s and press their 12-point anti poverty campaign platform. It includes a proposal to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour, increasing environmentally friendly green jobs and leveraging city assets to address poverty.
The report analyzes crime and incarceration rates, racial mix in each of the city’s ZIP codes. It is a culmination of public hearings on poverty and was a collaborative effort between OIC of America, with leadership from local unions including United Here Philadelphia, and Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild (POWER), an umbrella group representing 40 denominations.
The report includes statistics about the extent of poverty, with greater than one in four Philadelphia households earning less than $24,000 and annual household income for many of those residents falls below $12,000.
Briheem Douglas, 32, who has worked union jobs in South Philadelphia’s pro sports stadiums, welcomed the report for highlighting disparities between “front of the house” jobs that tend to earn higher pay, such as suite attendants and bartenders, and lower-profile “back of the house” jobs such as waitresses. He is also vice president of the Unite Here Philadelphia’s local 274, which represents hotel and food service workers. Unite Here local union 634 represents school cafeteria workers and lunch aides.
“We need to make big companies pay their fair share,” Douglas said, naming food service company Aramark, which counts the city’s public school system as a client. “It’s about us coming together, concretely,” he said, including different sections of the city and even outer lying communities like Upper Darby.
At a morning session, Callahan said the report highlights segregation embedded in the hospitality and food service industries across the city. For example, a relatively small fraction, 14 percent of restaurant servers, which fall on the higher end of the pay-scale, are held by Black people, according to the report. Yet Blacks hold 58 percent of lower paying jobs in housekeeping.