Philadelphia has the highest poverty rate of any of the 10 largest U.S. cities: It’s 28.4 percent. Some 31 percent of households in North Philadelphia’s First Congressional District don’t earn enough to buy sufficient food to feed their families.
Of the 10 largest U.S. cities, Philadelphia ranks highest for deep poverty with a rate of 12.9 percent of its population living at half the poverty line or below it; that’s 200,000 people. The annual salary for a single person at half the poverty line is $5,700. It’s $11,700 for a family of four. Given these statistics, it’s not surprising that infant mortality rates in this city are the fifth worst out of 200 U.S. cities.
In April, the official unemployment rate in Philadelphia was 6.7 percent for white workers and 13.2 percent for African Americans.
Applications for government services for the unemployed and others in poverty are now handled by phone or over the Internet. This avoids regular gatherings of many unemployed workers. Job fairs are one of the few times when the jobless come together in large numbers.
Job fair attendees sign petitions for fair hiring
On May 23, thousands of hopeful job applicants lined up in North Philadelphia to take a chance on finding work at Temple University’s Career Fair. The line extended around the block.
As the continuous stream of men and women inched forward, members of the Phair Hiring Coalition gathered signatures on petitions demanding that Temple University increase the number of women, African Americans and Latinos/as working on the school’s construction sites.
After two hours — with the line still very long — a Philadelphia cop approached petitioners, asking, “When the Job Fair ends later, and if there are still hundreds of people in line, you’re not going to incite trouble, are you?”
Outside the job fair, PHC volunteers gathered more than 600 signatures on petitions in less than four hours.
The PHC is a network of students, unemployed workers, and community and union activists, which organized weekly picket lines in the spring of 2012 to demand that qualified workers have equal access to living-wage jobs at TU construction sites. In the last few months, activists have collected hundreds of signatures on petitions at area shopping centers.
Temple currently has more than $400 million in active construction projects, but according to the university’s own statistics, residents from the neighborhoods surrounding the school have labored only 8 percent of the total number of hours worked. People of color make up 89 percent of the populations of North Philadelphia communities — in one of the poorest congressional districts in the country — and they are not being hired for these construction jobs.
Temple officials met with PHC members last year with unsatisfactory results. The university recently agreed to a second meeting with the PHC on June 6. At that meeting, activists will hand over the petitions gathered at the job fair, along with those gotten earlier.
Job fair for former prisoners cancelled
Each year, 35,000 men and women return to Philadelphia from federal, state and local prisons. They have limited prospects for finding work. When a job fair for unemployed, formerly incarcerated women and men was announced for May 17, more than 3,000 people lined up outside the Municipal Services Building in Center City with resumes in hand.
Organizers of the “Job Fair for Ex-Offenders” were overwhelmed when three times the expected number of applicants showed up. Everett Gillison, deputy mayor for public safety, said the event was publicized on social media and it snowballed. He claimed that the designated space for the event could not handle the crowd, so officials closed it down shortly after it began.
The disappointed veterans of this country’s massive incarceration system were told to go home. Officials promised to reschedule the event for a later date at the Convention Center.
Thousands of students walked out of their schools three times in May to protest the unending budget cuts in the educational system. Guidance counselors and librarians are the latest victims. Extracurricular activities are on the chopping block, too, as Philadelphia schools are deliberately dismantled.
Hundreds of city workers who are members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Union, with the active support of other AFL-CIO locals, rallied on May 22 and 23 to demand a fair contract after five years of futile negotiations with a big-business-controlled city administration.
The potential of the unemployed, youth and labor joining together in one militant working-class coalition would cause the bosses in the corporate suites in Philadelphia’s most expensive buildings to shake in their boots.