Harrisburg, the state capital of Pennsylvania, is located about 110 miles west of the city of Philadelphia, along the banks of the Susquehanna River. But is Harrisburg a good place to live?
Harrisburg is a good place to live. While the city has experienced problems in the past and does have an elevated crime rate, city officials and residents have worked very hard to bring Harrisburg to a better place. As a result, the Harrisburg of today is up-and-coming, with a bright future ahead.
So is Harrisburg an affordable place to live? Are there good jobs in Harrisburg? Is there anything fun to do in Harrisburg? How is the weather? Read on to learn if Harrisburg is the new city for you and your family to call home.
Everything You Need to Know About Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is a city of about 50,000 inhabitants located along the banks of the Susquehanna River, about 110 miles east of Philadelphia and about 80 miles north of Baltimore.
Not only has Harrisburg been a city of great historical importance, but it also remains vitally important today as the state capital of Pennsylvania.
History of Harrisburg
The modern history of Harrisburg began in 1719 when an English trader named John Harris Sr. settled on the banks of the Susquehanna River and procured an 800-acre land grant from the King of England. The senior Harris farmed and worked the land, and soon, his land became an important stop for traders traveling west.
In 1785, John Harris Jr., son of the original Harris, had the land formally surveyed. In 1791 the city of Harrisburg was incorporated. By 1812 the city became the capital of Pennsylvania, although it remained a typically rural Pennsylvania farm town through the early 1800s.
By the 1850s, Harrisburg began developing significant industrial facilities. Steel and iron works popped up around the town like mushrooms after a summer rain, and railyards to support the heavy industry soon followed.
The industrial boom of Harrisburg, plus its political and geographical significance, made it an important city during the American Civil War. In addition, Harrisburg was an important stop on the Underground Railroad, a safe haven for escaped slaves seeking to start free lives.
Harrisburg was also a vital training location for the Union Army and a critical logistics transshipment point for various materials. Confederate forces tried on several occasions to capture Harrisburg and disrupt Union logistics operations, but they were unsuccessful.
After the war, Harrisburg continued to thrive as an industrial city. By the early 20th century, the city was proliferating. To revitalize, it joined the City Beautiful Movement, which focused on building beautiful public spaces designed to improve residents’ lives.
The middle- and late-twentieth century was less kind to Harrisburg, which suffered industrial decline and a flight of residents to the suburbs. Then, in the early 2000s, the city suffered humiliation after humiliation as prominent political figures were revealed to be massively incompetent and thoroughly corrupt.
Today, however, Harrisburg is much better. Decades of hard work by city counselors and the Commonwealth Court have corrected the city’s course, and modern Harrisburg enjoys a balanced budget, improving infrastructure, and a bright future.
Living in Harrisburg
Harrisburg certainly has a rich history that mirrors so much of modern America as our nation has changed over the years. So what’s it like to live in Harrisburg today?
Cost of Living
The cost of living in Harrisburg is on par with the median cost of living across the United States. However, there is some contextual data that might affect your personal expenses.
For starters, the cost of living in Harrisburg is below the national average. The US Census Bureau reports that the median gross rent in Harrisburg is about $846 a month, which is below the nationwide median of $1,096 a month. In addition, the median monthly cost to own a home in Harrisburg is $1,036 a month versus $1,621 nationwide.
Utilities, gasoline, and groceries in Harrisburg do cost more than average, which negates the benefits of affordable housing. All in all, Harrisburg is not too cheap but also not too costly, making it a very average American city.
Rating: Harrisburg is comparable to most similar-sized American cities in terms of cost of living.
Keystone Answers Fun Fact: The Broad Street Market is the oldest continuously operating marketplace in the United States.
Jobs and Economy
Despite having above-average unemployment for a variety of complicated reasons, there are plenty of jobs in Harrisburg. Harrisburg’s top five economic sectors are healthcare, government, accommodation and food services (think Hershey), manufacturing, and retail.
This fact checks out if you look at where people work. The top five employers in Harrisburg are the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Federal Government, Giant Food Stores, Penn State Hershey Medical Center, and Hershey Entertainment and Resorts. There are also many jobs in the defense sector, both for active and contracted military personnel.
So how much do people in Harrisburg earn? That’s a tricky question. Census data shows that the median household income in Harrisburg is below average, at $41,831 per household per year. However, many people who work in Harrisburg live in the nearby suburbs, so their income is reflected in census data for the towns they live in.
Another confounding factor is that Harrisburg has an above-average unemployment rate, which is an artifact of the struggles the town endured in the late 1900s and early 2000s. The unemployment rate artificially drags down the median income figures for Harrisburg. Most jobs in Harrisburg actually pay well.
Rating: Harrisburg is a good place to work. The high unemployment figures are primarily an echo of past struggles and will likely resolve as the city continues improving.
You may hear some people say that Harrisburg has a crime problem. To be fair, the data does reflect that: Harrisburg does have an above-average violent crime rate.
However, the Harrisburg Bureau of Police is taking action to combat violent crime by significantly increasing police patrols in troubled areas. The Bureau of Police is sending up to twenty uniformed officers at a time into high-crime areas to saturate the streets with police personnel, arrest criminals, and send a message that crime is no longer tolerated in Harrisburg.
The strategy seems to be working. FBI crime data from 2011-2021 shows that Harrisburg’s crime problem is improving. It is likely that this trend will continue into the future.
Source: FBI Crime Data Explorer
The Harrisburg Bureau of Police has two excellent interactive crime maps. These maps let you examine current crime data by scrolling around the city, so you can get a feel for what’s happening in any specific neighborhood in Harrisburg.
Rating: Crime has historically been a problem in Harrisburg, but local authorities are making aggressive efforts to improve the situation. If you are vigilant and not looking for trouble, you shouldn’t have any problems.
Driving is a hassle. Roads are congested, people drive like lunatics, and gas isn’t cheap. So while we Americans still love our cars, many people are turning to public transit or walking to get around in major cities.
Walkscore.com rates Harrisburg at 68/100 for walkability. Many neighborhoods in Harrisburg are walkable and have easy access to public transportation. Bicycles are a popular means of transportation in Harrisburg, although the city’s bike infrastructure could be better.
Overall, people in the Harrisburg area still need cars to get around. But once you’re in town, it’s relatively easy to walk, take a bus, or bike to your final destination.
Rating: Harrisburg is typical of most American cities: some areas are walkable, but most residents still need cars to get around.
Things to Do
There are lots of cool things to do in Harrisburg. One of the most popular things to do is to go to the Broad Street Market. This massive public marketplace is not just historical, it’s fun! You can find anything from gourmet donuts to coffee, health food, craft beer, ethnic food, and more at the market.
If you prefer sports, Harrisburg has its very own minor-league baseball team, the Harrisburg Senators. Tickets to see the Senators are much cheaper than MLB tickets, and the games are just as good. However, if baseball isn’t your thing, consider taking the kids (or your friends) for a fun round of mini-golf at City Island Water Golf.
As the state capital, Harrisburg is home to the Capital Complex, which offers guided tours for the curious-minded. There are also plenty of museums, including the National Civil War Museum, the State Museum of Pennsylvania, the Whitaker Center, and the Susquehanna Art Museum.
Are you more outdoorsy? Pennsylvania is an outdoorsman’s paradise, and Harrisburg is no different, with easy access to great outdoor activities, including great hiking trails, fishing spots, and state parks. And what could be better after a long day in the woods than a refreshing craft beer or a trip to a winery?
While it is not technically in Harrisburg, the famed Hershey park amusement park is only about 20 minutes away from downtown. The whole family will love the rides, the zoo, and (of course!) the chocolate.
Rating: Harrisburg has plenty of fun things to do for grown-ups and kids alike.
Harrisburg: A Bright Future Ahead
Harrisburg may not be as famous as other Pennsylvania cities, and it has undoubtedly experienced problems in the past. But the Harrisburg of today is up-and-coming, rebounding from the past with enthusiasm and gaining momentum into the future. So if you’re looking for a city with a rich history and a promising future, Harrisburg just might be the place for you.