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Philadelphia's Suburbs Cost of Living vs. Center City

Updated: Feb 17, 2020

Via The Philadelphia Inquirer

It costs more than $70,000 a year for a Philadelphia family of four to live without help; in the suburbs, up to $88,000

A Philadelphia family of four must make more than $70,000 a year just to survive, a new report says — a stunning sum beyond the reach of most residents in a city beset by high poverty and meager chances.

“According to the newly released study based on 2019 data, two adults with one preschooler and one school-age child have to take in $70,613 to meet their needs without receiving public assistance or help from relatives or friends.”

In a city household consisting of one parent and two children trying to afford bare necessities — including food, shelter, health care, and child care — the adult has to make at least $65,122 to subsist without aid, according to the report, part of the so-called Self-Sufficiency Standard compiled for 41 states by the University of Washington-Seattle.

Meanwhile, in the Pennsylvania suburban counties, a family of four requires an annual income ranging from a low of about $80,000 to a high of almost $88,000, the study found.

In Philadelphia, it appears that the majority of households don’t make enough money to cover basic costs. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 60% of city households — nearly 365,000 out of a total of 608,000 — take in less than $60,000 a year. About 70% earn less than $75,000. The median household income in Philadelphia is just above $46,000 a year, compared with the national median of about $63,000.

Bare Minimum

In 2008, a family of four in Philadelphia needed to make more than $50,000 a year to meet the Self-Sufficiency Standard. That standard increased to more than $70,000 in 2019. According to the Census Bureau, 60% of Philadelphia households make less than $60,000 annually, and 69% make less than $75,000.”

People are losing ground despite their best efforts. According to the report, 79% of Pennsylvania households whose incomes fall below the Self-Sufficiency Standard have at least one person working. The data exclude the elderly and disabled.

“It’s very depressing to live this way,” said Debra Colbert, 47, a married mother of three children aged 12, 15, and 16 who says her Hunting Park family struggles financially. She works part time as a grocery shopper; her husband is a truck driver. According to the report, the Colberts would need to make $87,226 a year to sustain themselves — which they don’t.

Surviving the suburbs

“You work so hard and you’re never just content to know that the bills are paid, the gas tank is full, and the refrigerator is stocked,” said Colbert, who declined to disclose her family income. “There’s always something not getting paid. My 16-year-old is going to junior prom in May. How much will it be? I don’t even know yet.

"It weighs on my mind. You never exhale.”

To survive without help in the Pennsylvania suburbs, according to the Self-Sufficiency Standard, a household of two adults, a preschooler, and a school-age child would have to take in $82,792 annually in Bucks County, $87,897 in Chester County, $79,861 in Delaware County, and $86,047 in Montgomery County.

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