Parking Industry Fuels Poverty in Philadelphia


Ten years into the current economic expansion, too many working Philadelphians still cannot support their family. More than a quarter of city residents remain in poverty including 14% in “deep poverty” with incomes below half the poverty line. While a growing number of Philadelphians have jobs, some work long hours or have two jobs. Their low wages still leave too many workers with incomes that don’t cover the cost of basic necessities or enable workers to buy enough at neighborhood businesses to drive the city economy forward.

The lion’s share of working Philadelphians with low incomes work in low-wage service industries such as the city’s parking garages. One thousand parking garage workers cater to the city’s business, civic, professional, and cultural elite, often braving cold and heat  for long hours but are still unable to support their families. These workers also help fill the coffers of what is now a highly profitable $30 billion U.S. industry with CEOs taking home millions of dollars, a hundred or more times the pay of typical workers. This report explores the consequences of low wages in the parking garage industry based on a new survey of 143 industry workers.

At the median parking garage wage of $9.50 per hour, a single adult in the city of Philadelphia would have to work 68 hours per week to pay for housing, food, public transportation, child care, and other necessities. A single adult with one child would have to work 115 hours—more than 16 hours per day, seven days per week. Half of these parking garage workers have more than one child.

Even when they work six or seven days per week, parking garage workers live paycheck to paycheck.

  • More than half have difficulty paying one or more of their bills.
  • One third struggle to pay utility bills, nearly a third to pay for housing.
  • Nearly one fifth of parking workers regularly skip meals because they cannot afford food.

These workers receive few benefits: less than half are covered by a company health care plan; 40% do not even receive paid vacation days; and a third have no health insurance at all.

Nearly nine out of ten parking garage workers are African or African-American, have lived in Philadelphia for more than five years, and are over age 24—with half aged 45 and older. Six out of 10 were born in the United States with three-quarters of foreign-born workers from Africa.

More than three quarters of these workers serve as parking lot attendants, shuttle drivers, or valet, catering to regional commuters.

These workers work hard—full time or more. All of those interviewed worked at least a 40-hour week with four in ten working 50 hours or more and one in six working 70 or more hours per week.

Parking garage workers, despite many years with their current employer, earn extremely low wages as half earn $9.50 per hour or less. While wages for many workers are finally rising in a tighter job market, two thirds of parking garage workers have not received a raise in the last 12 months.