Do Something

We need a jobs pipeline

The public is encouraged to attend and participate in the school district’s regular Action Meetings. You can find the schedule here as well as information on how to register as a speaker. Let the SDP know our students have more choices than just heading to college.

Here you can find the schedule for the Philadelphia City Council meetings as well as instructions on how to sign up to speak. You can review the agendas on the calendar here and watch meetings live here.

Find out who represents you on the City Council and reach out to let them know you want the city to create a jobs pipeline for our students to earn a solid living right here in Philly while improving our city services.


Ultimate Job Interview

Interview the Next Mayor of Philadelphia

Join us for the next in our series of public events in which a panel of questioners with expertise in hiring — along with audience members like you! — will interview 2023 mayoral candidates using a job description created by the people of Philadelphia.

Next up: Rebecca Rhynhart and Allan Domb on Tuesday, February 7, from 6:30-8:30pm at Fitler Club.

The events are free, but you must register in advance here. We hope to see you there.

See our crowd-sourced job description here:

Philadelphia Mayor Job Description

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Your toolkit for better citizenship

One of the founding tenets of The Philadelphia Citizen is to get people the resources they need to become better, more engaged citizens of their city.

We hope to do that in our Good Citizenship Toolkit, which includes a host of ways to get involved in Philadelphia — whether you want to contact your City Councilmember to voice your support for improving education opportunities, get those experiencing homelessness the goods they need, or simply go out to dinner somewhere where you know your money is going toward a greater good.

Find an issue that’s important to you in the list below, and get started on your journey of A-plus citizenship.

Vote and strengthen democracy

Stand up for marginalized communities

Create a cleaner, greener Philadelphia

Help our local youth and schools succeed

Support local businesses


To this story on our podcast

Welcome to the enhanced audio edition of Jemille Duncan’s story.

And go here for more audio articles from CitizenCast.

Poverty Is Not Fashion

Why new fashion trends are insulting to poor people and how to actually help them

Recently, I saw an Instagram post of someone in a Nordstrom holding $625 sneakers. But they were dirty. Who’s paying that kind of money for dirty shoes?

I thought the post had to be fake. Nordstrom is known for selling higher-end suits, dresses, shoes, jewelry, and cosmetics … Why would dirty sneakers be among that catalog? It didn’t add up.

Knowing very little about today’s fashion trends, I decided to check. Turns out Nordstrom does indeed sell dirty sneakers — they’re called Golden Goose. And they’re not alone. So do Gucci and Balenciaga, whose versions Vogue has described as looking like they “survived an act of God.” (They also make Nordstrom’s $625 Golden Gooses (Golden Geese?) look reasonably priced.)

Then, I read reviews of the shoes. One stood out to me: “It’s super comfortable and I love the distressed look. I don’t have to worry getting it dirty because it’s designed like that. Rugged and comfortable.” (I edited their spelling for clarity.)

Rugged? Distressed? These are terms used by designers of country-style homes and new-but-used-looking denim. They’re a look, I suppose. But what I see — and feel — when luxury brands sell expensive, worn-out shoes is an absurd mockery of the way of life that too many people are struggling to escape.

Poverty is not fashion. Poor is not trendy. There is nothing glamorous about hardship.

Dirty sneakers cross the line

These days, it’s acceptable for people of all ages and income levels to wear frayed, faded and torn jeans. But sneakers: They’re different. Something is seriously amiss with whoever thought tattered $700 Bobos were a good idea. Where I’m from in Philly, kids get bullied for wearing worn-out sneakers, and here we have a luxury brand — and its retailers — profiting off it.

For decades, keeping your sneakers in like-new condition has been a point of pride, especially among city kids. You keep your Adidas from “talking,” hole-free. You keep your Reeboks clean. Nike even offers advice on how to do this.

That Nordstrom and crew sell purposely beat-up versions of street shoes — and charge five to 10 times the price of the kicks on the walls of Foot Locker or Snipes — is just plain insulting to the one-quarter of Philadelphians and one-third of Philly kids who are poor.

Poverty is not fashion. Poor is not trendy. There is nothing glamorous about hardship.

Philadelphia remains the poorest big city in the United States, with 22.3 percent of Philadelphians in poverty. In 2022, as the city’s overall poverty rate fell, our child poverty rate increased … to 34 percent.

I was one of those kids. I remember being in middle school, overly conscious of re-wearing old winter jackets and backpacks from previous school years, switching sneakers I wore to avoid looking like I only had one pair.

Although I wasn’t alone, I still felt pressure to not appear poor. And I’d venture to say most kids in my situation — even though there were many of us — felt the same way. I don’t have a solution to teasing or bullying. But I do feel it’s important to know that if you paid $700 for a pair of sad-looking sneakers, a lot of people are taking it personally.

I don’t expect designers to pull their wares from shelves just because they’ve insulted me and, likely, many others. (Although it wouldn’t be the first time a luxury brand pulled an item and apologized for its exceedingly poor taste. In fact, fashion is notorious for post-runway mea culpas.)

But if there is one good thing to be said for $625 dirty sneakers: They got me thinking about what can be done about poverty in our city — and how a recent shift of perspective and new statewide hiring policies could make a huge difference.

Present different post-secondary options

The best way to put money in people’s pockets is to enable them with skills and options to get well-paying jobs. This should be happening in high schools.

But currently, schools tell students they only have two options: Go to college or work a minimum-wage job. This manufactures a social climate that pressures students to enroll. Which explains why college freshmen comprise 30 percent of the college dropout rate: We’re pushing college for the wrong reasons, and they’re dropping out as a result.

By presenting college as the only viable post-secondary option, schools sow seeds of failure in the minds of students whose passions lie elsewhere before they even graduate — really, before their life even begins.

To correct this, schools need to inform students of career options that don’t require a college degree.

Some of those professions include:

Truck drivers ($76,000)

Electricians ($73,000)

Police officers ($65,000)

Building inspectors ($63,000)

Flight attendants ($62,000)

Paralegals or legal assistants ($60,000)

Firefighters ($54,000)

Glaziers ($48,000)

Dental assistants ($43,000)

Philly government has a role

It’s worth noting that the City of Philadelphia has staffing shortages in several of those areas, including building inspectors. In 2022, the Inquirer reported that the City employs 46 construction inspectors, 48 code enforcement inspectors, 31 plan examiners, 12 emergency response inspectors, two auditors and investigation inspectors, and one nuisance property inspector. That’s a total of 140 inspectors — for 590,000 properties in Philadelphia.

We’ve seriously got 140 people ensuring the safety of over half a million properties. This has been going on for years, and it’s untenable.

It’s no wonder buildings are collapsing left and right. Just a few weeks ago, a West Philadelphia home collapsed. We don’t have enough people inspecting properties. The city should incentivize students to fill this void in the labor market.

So many students in our School District are poor, and we’re wasting the opportunity to show them pathways out of poverty.

To be clear, I’m not under the illusion that kids dream of becoming building inspectors. But it’s a respectable, well-paying job that saves lives, which students should know about before graduating. And with schools in local control, the City should create a pipeline to fill these well-paying, non-degreed jobs.

And there are now more jobs on the market that don’t require a degree.

Pennsylvania just gutted degree requirements

Governor Josh Shapiro recently signed an executive order eliminating degree requirements for 92 percent of state government jobs. We’re talking an estimated 65,000 jobs now open to virtually everyone. That’s nothing to sneeze at.

While signing the executive order, Shapiro called the four-year degree requirement an “arbitrary limitation,” a barrier to entry for many deserving Pennsylvanians. Shapiro’s Acting Deputy Secretary for Administration, Beth Christian, who was pivotal in undoing the degree requirement, doesn’t have a four-year degree herself.

Christian said she knew college wasn’t for her but didn’t “realize how that stigma would follow” her throughout her career. That stigma still exists, and schools can correct it by informing students of post-secondary options unrelated to college.

So many students in our School District are poor, and we’re wasting the opportunity to show them pathways out of poverty. If schools stopped presenting absurd binary post-secondary options (college or a minimum wage job), students would feel the full breadth of opportunities they truly have.

And to show some contrition, multi-billion dollar luxury store brands that sell dirty shoes should make a donation to the Philadelphia School District so we can expand our education programs, lifting people out of the poverty they mock.

Jemille Q. Duncan is a public policy professional, columnist, and Gates Scholar at Swarthmore College. He is the former aide of two Philadelphia City Councilmembers and a Pennsylvania State Senator. @jq_duncan


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