Friday, May 20, 2016

Pennsylvania jobs frackageddon

Just a quick update, adding in the April jobs data just out, of a graphic I put together last month focusing on the fate of mining jobs in Pennsylvania. Again this is a bit contrived in that I subtract out what is happening in Pittsburgh so as to get at what is happening across central Pennsylvania.

In short the jobs Frackageddon continues across most of Pennsylvania. It is not as fast a loss in the Pittsburgh data I excluded here for the record, but elsewhere in Pennsylvania things are now beyond dire.  In fact the net loss in mining jobs between March and April (-900) is actually the single biggest month over month job loss I calculate anywhere in the time series.  So the job loss is accelerating.  I am amazed because, as you see in the graphic, the loss of these jobs is already down 85% from peak back to a pre-shale baseline. You would have thought that after the bulk of the jobs had gone, the loss would begin to slow down, which is not the case here.  It reinforces what I said in the earlier post that in the end it will not just be the shale jobs that go away, but the coal jobs the shale boom eviscerated. If true, we are heading down to a new baseline that is lower than where we started.

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Thursday, May 19, 2016

Latest city population data

ICYMI, population estimates just out for the city of Pittsburgh show a decline between 2014 and 2015 of 1,374*.  If true it represents the biggest annual population loss in almost a decade (since between 2006 and 2007 to be precise). I think Edward Tufte might take issue with the PG's accompanying illustration of the data, so here are a couple other breakdowns of the number.

First is just an update of graphic I have put up in the past showing the evolution of the time series of Census estimates for the city over time.

So basically a recent peak in the middle of 2013.  If you are curious what showed a more rapid jump in the city's population earlier this decade, I have gone into that in the past in more detail here, but the short version was there were some errors in reporting of the population of a single dormitory-like residence with a large number of college students.  But it was just an error, though it was quite a headline at the time when the city's population trend first showed a positive number. Turned out, coincidentially, or luckily, to be true in the following years, but it was not true at the time.

What may be more useful is a time series of annual change in the city's population over the last decade or so.  That looks like this:

Going back even earlier, net annual losses in that 3-4K range were pretty typical going back a frightfully long time, but from around 2004 to 2013 you see a solid trend moving positive.  Hard to continue it though and for now a qualitative break to the downside over the last 2-3 years.  True, a lot of caveats with this particular data, so we will see going forward.

*PG article current says the annual loss is 1,313, but my subtraction shows the loss is 1,374??

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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

How Fracking brought Abba back to Pittsburgh

What is the most important economic news you will not read elsewhere? For Pittsburgh that is. Check out the ship that might just save Pittsburgh:

The news is that the World's Largest Liquefied Ethylene Carrier is now under construction in China. Check out the impressive Navigator Aurora which now appears to be underway and scheduled to be delivered to its new owner in London later this month. Obscure news mentioned only here, on an obscure and barely read blog? Maybe.  Turns out it might be the single most important news impacting Pittsburgh into the future. The new ship is purpose-built to transport liquefied ethylene gas over the ocean. Ethylene is widely used across the chemical industry and is produced from natural gas, something the US is finding itself in greater and greater surplus.

All should know by now that natural gas prices have collapsed as a result of that growing surplus. Prices of natural gas produced in Pennsylvania has dropped even further below market prices elsewhere in the US.  With that price collapse the employment across Pennsylvania in all things shale has collapsed even further.  Personally I expect that by the time the fall comes, there will be little room left to store the natural gas being produced in the United States, and at least spot prices will enter a unpredictable twilight zone. So things look bad for all those predictions of any local, regional or statewide economic boom powered by shale gas development.

But there is one big hope for natural gas markets in the future.  Last month, the first export of natural gas left the east coast for European customers. Some believe that ever more exports could drive up demand for shale gas, and by backstopping market prices will refuel the shale boom once envisioned. Whether exports will ever be big enough to have the effect some want, and what greater US exports will mean to prices worldwide, is a topic for another day. But if there is any hope for that scenario, ships like the Navigator Aurora will be its catalyst.

Here is the real interesting point. The new ship is not going to be a new free-agent looking for clients in the growing worldwide market for ethane/ethylene. It is being bought under what I presume is a long term contract to bring natural gas solely from the US East Coast to a single ethylene cracker owned by the Borealis company in the Stenungsund, Sweden. I have to believe that the investment in the ship and plans for supplying the cracker plant in Stenuncsund would all not have gone forward if there were not some very long term contracts in place to supply what is probably Marcellus Shale-produced natural gas for export.  So yes, the land of Abba (that would be the Styx of Scandinavia for the record) is likely to be a bigger consumer of shale-gas than Pittsburgh (writ large) is for some years to come.

Yes, maybe, maybe, in a decade at a minimum, a similar ethylene cracker might start up in Beaver County, but for a long time there at least there will be fare more ethane being consumed in Sweeden than. The extensive agglomeration of chemical industries around Stenungsund may already be greater than what remains of what once once a far more extensive chemical industry cluster in Pittsburgh.  Even if the Beaver County plant proceeds at full steam, it will be decades before there Pittsburgh rebuilds anything like the cluster of chemical industries there. Will natural gas and ethane markets in a quarter century resemble anything like what they are today? I wonder.

But the ironic punch line of it all.  Even as shale-gas induced employment in Pennsylvania collapses, there are certainly jobs at shipyards in Shanghai, ship brokers in London, and blue collar workers across Scandinavia looking to benefit far more over the coming decade or longer from the shale boom around us. I read something about the world being flat and all.

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Sunday, May 15, 2016

Um, building permits in the city of Pittsburgh anyone?

I know things are quiescent here, but somebody out there ought to have noticed this.  I'll skip the preamble and go right to the bottom line (up front, as it were). Check out the latest data point in this annual time series total units in residential building permits for the City of Pittsburgh.

Let that last # sink in for a minute. If correct then there is big news in that little spike for 2015? That or at least a sign the local hagiography industry is sputtering? More than that, it is potentially quite a historic number. Why? The bulk of that number comes from 9 potential buildings with 100+ units each on average, something that has likely not been planned within the city for an undetermined period of time.  I will hazard a presumption that residential building permits were not exactly jumping off the charts through the 70s and 80s - a period when the city's population was dropping pretty rapidly - you might have to go back several decades at least to find a comparable level of new (potential) residential construction.

It is one of those metrics that means more or less than may seem obvious.  This all is from data collected by the Census Bureau on residential construction permits, so theoretically a great leading indicator of construction activity in the near future. The huge spike in building permits issued in 2015 could be indicative of a lot of new units coming online soon, and possibly of a population spike (spike-let? if that is a word) to fill said units.   If you look back over the last 20 years, the next two largest numbers (367 in 1999 and 641 in 2002) each reflected notable events in Pittsburgh real estate history. One is likely for plans for the initial Summerset development and the earlier Downtown residential units that boomed in the new century, respectively.

OK, deep breath.

One huge caveat (yes all real data has caveats, live with it) that may at the very least make the spike less extreme in context than it appears..  This data is self-reported by individual municipalities, so it really just reflects data the city of Pittsburgh sends to the Census folks each year. The data has a breakdown of building permits issued by size of structure and also the total estimated construction value.  I have pointed out in the past the curious anomaly that the data for the city of Pittsburgh showed zero new building permits for multi-unit buildings with 4 or more units for any year between 2005 and 2013.  Since casual observation can come up with examples to dispute those zero values, so you have to assume something was amiss in the data itself. I think the city kind of missed reporting building permits on larger construction for many years, even though the data should have been included..  I also think that datum of 100 for 2013 is revised and a bit to round for me - wortth checking,  You can read some of my musings on this issue in this old post here. Others have opined that the building permits in the city also not reflect renovation activity leading to new habitable residential units as well. So some of the past data may not be as low as it appears, but it is hard to imagine the reality gets close to that 2015 data no matter.

So take it all, like all extreme data points, with a grain of salt, but still at the end of the day it is hard to miss that 2015 is a big number compared to any year in the past. Even if all those units don't actually get built, is the filing of so much construction activity an economic metric of note for the city unto itself?

See, I didn't make you read all the way to the end to get to the punch line. There is a secret question however?  Why was I even looking at this data this week?

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Sunday, April 24, 2016

A Frack in the Pan

With the Pennsylvania Senate race, and a lot of Pennsylvania politics in general, still revolving around the question of whether fracking should be promoted, banned, encouraged or tolerated, a more fundamental economic question is left untouched. What is the current state of fracking in Pennsylvania? The market may have more than determined what politics implies is still an active question. The news has belatedly caught up to the decline in fracking across Pennsylvania, but the meme seems to be it's all a temporary setback. Everyone seems to be skipping over some more structural changes taking place in the industry.  There may not be much need to debate the future of fracking much longer, at least in Pennsylvania.

Will fracking come back is quite a hypothetical for the long run. Closer to the here and now is a much starker reality. The issue is no longer whether fracking related economic growth (and the jobs that go along with it) has reversed, but by how much and how far and what are the 2nd order effects of the rapid boom and bust. My question that goes a bit further. In the long run, will the development of fracking across Pennsylvania lead to net job destruction in the long run? Yes, the question isn't how many jobs will be created by fracking. Will fracking lead to a net loss of jobs.

Heresy? Certainly for an economic boom most claimed would last, at a minimum, for decades if not longer. Remember the, long since overcome by events, economic impact studies of Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania. These studies were promised to be repeated annually so we could track the changes taking place. Yet, after just a couple of these studies, and long before the projected gains were ever realized in actual data, the studies were mysteriously put out to pasture, never to be repeated.

Debates over the scale of gains is one thing, but a net job loss is another matter altogether? Not just a wild projection of mine. Here is a graphic I admit I contrived, but gets to the core trends in shale development in Pennsylvania. Employment trends for Pennsylvania are reported for the Mining and Logging industries. Granted logging exists in Pennsylvania, but the variations in tat time series is all about natural gas and shale development in particular. Southwestern Pennsylvania, to include the Pittsburgh MSA, has had a longer boom in shale development for a number of reasons. The newer development of Utica Shale centered in eastern Ohio has provided additional gains. In the core of Pennsylvania where the Marcellus Shale was first developed at scale, the trend is pretty stark. My annotated graph below is of mining and logging employment in Pennsylvania net of the trends for the Pittsburgh MSA. Take a look:

Hard to look at that graphic and read the projections, or hope, the industry has of a turnaround by next year. Even if the industry stabilized, will the jobs come back?

The punch line. Mining and logging employment spiked by ~100% between 2005 and a peak in early 20112 The base of employment prior to 2005 includes mostly coal mining which is also included in this time series, but the changes since then have mostly been due to the trends in natural gas development. Explosively employment growth occurred from 2009 through 2012, but then went flat and since 2015have been falling precipitously. As of March 2016, the drop thus far means that over 78% of the gains between 2005 and 2013 have already evaporated. Here is the bigger observation of the data: the employment drop does not appear to be abating. If the drop continues at the rate it is going until July of this year, the state's employment in mining and logging will drop below the 2005 average.

Surprising? Not if you consider what the 2nd order impacts of the shale revolution, as it were, has had across the energy panoply. Coal in particular, no matter what you think about the impact of regulations, has seen its market share impacted directly by the rapid expansion of inexpensive natural gas.

An unaddressed news story is what happened to all the workforce development programs across the state that raced frantically to get workers into these shale jobs. Did all, or any, of that make sense and how many of those newly trained workers ever found employment in the industry, let alone how many remain employed.

For those expecting a turnaround, coal production can't expect much gains as long as natural gas remains anywhere near as cheap as it is now. As coal mines close, many will wind up being closed permanently.  Add into it news from the last week that Consol closed its decades old research activity in Pittsburgh, you have to speculate that much of the region's coal employment will be forever eviscerated as a result of new natural gas already in the (proverbial) pipeline.  In the end, add up the loss of virtuall all natural gas job gains, and ever more coal job losses, the overall size of employment in the energy complex in Pennsylvania could very conceivably wind up smaller than it was before the shale revolution began. The unavoidable law of unintended consequences strikes again.

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Monday, April 18, 2016

Parsing Pennsylvania's Primary (or Nate Silver N'at)

Honestly this is mostly a post to prove I can still make a map.  But with the New York primary almost underway, all eyes will focus on the Pennsylvania primary. Much as they did 8 years ago; for at least a week that is.  Lots of talk of new voters registering this cycle, or voters switching registration to vote for one candidate or another.  How big a deal is either the party switching, or new registrations, in Pennsylvania?  The office of the Pennsylvania Secretary of State puts out lots of information to feed your inner Nate Silver.  Here is my take.

One topic I've seen alluded to is straight up party switching among people already registered.  This matters for Pennsylvania's closed primary. This is a map I concocted of the ratio of voters switching into the Republican and Democratic parties cumulatively since the beginning of 2016 (through April 3, and note the deadline to register for the primary election was March 28). 

It does give a fairly stark picture of switching into the Republican party.  Even Allegheny County has more folks switching to R than D, despite the large excess of registered D's there. 

That may be a bit misleading if inferred to be a new phenomenon.  Among already registered voters, party switching typical has this pattern or more switching to R than to D.  Yet how is it Pennsylvania has roughly million more registered Democrats than Republicans, a gap that is expanding over the years, not contracting?  The map above is only reflecting data of party switching among ready-registered voters who changed their party from something else to Democratic or from something else to Republican.   A similar map showing the ratio of new registrations is below. This depicts the ratio of new registrations as Democrats as percentage of total (note the total is among those registering as D or R, so not reflecting registrations other parties, or to no party.)

That gets closer to both the current political landscape of the state, and trends for the future.  Despite the first map showing a lot more re-registrations to Republican, the overall ratio of registrations over the same period is majority Democratic.  While there is a lot of Red in this map, the most populat counties in the state are pretty much all blue.

Make of it what you want.  Talk of Reagan Democrats and silent majorities I leave to the purely political pundits.  The total number of party switching into a major party (D or R, the first map) added up to under 75 thousand voters this year.  For a state with with over 8 million registered voters, you are really talking ~1%, much of which you would have expected no matter who was running this year.  Maybe this does not capture trends late in 2015, but I doubt it would make much of a difference.

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Sunday, February 07, 2016

The hanging indent

I owe my editor this. Now available and apologies for the price, but something you might want to mention to your favorite librarian to acquire.  From Routledge:  Routledge Handbook of Technology and Policy.

Chapter 9, which probably talks a lot more about Pittsburgh than it ought to, may be of interest to some who find their way here: The Role of Universities in the Evolution of Technology-Based Economic Development Policies in the United States, by Christopher Briem and Vijai Singh. 

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Wednesday, February 03, 2016

low prices, lower unemployment and signing off (for now)

We interrupt the static noise this blog has become. I even had to reset my password to log back in. 

But this little snippet of economic news sure seems so under-reported from my scan of what is going on. Anyone notice this recent story from the AP: Natural gas income from Pennsylvania forests takes big fall. How big? The story says Pennsylvania's revenue from leasing gas rights in state forests is down by half over just the recent year. That is just the beginning of the story. Note that the recent time period the story references is July through December 2015. Average natural gas prices have dropped significantly further since then. Consider the collapse in natural gas prices this week (hey, who wrote that article?) alone. Here is a headline from yesterday: Natural gas prices plunge below $2 on forecasts for warmer weather 

Natural gas price trends are worse for Pennsylvania producers.  The current realized price of natural gas in Pennsylvania is far cheaper than the benchmark prices quoted in business news. There is just too much gas here, and too few pipelines to get gas to where  markets what it to be.  Pennsylvania produced natural gas has not been above $2/MMBtu in some time, really not above $1.5MMBtu even.  Take that altogether, and given recent price trends, could future royalty payments to the state of Pennsylvania drop to literally zero?

Who cares about revenue from forests right?  The bigger question is what is happening to royalty payments for others. If royalty payments are dropping for the state of Pennsylvania, which one would hope negotiated relatively favorable contracts, what is happening to royalty payments to the average Pennsylvania landowner who sold their gas rights? How low have those income streams dropped and how is that impacting communities across the state. Then there is this related question of other revenue for other government entities which have sold gas rights on public land?

(update Feb 6. Trib looks at some of this: Slowdowns in oil, gas industries mean smaller checks for landowners  and then on Feb 10 see KDKA: Businesses Seeing Major Slowdown In Marcellus Shale Drilling Areas.  More to follow??)

Looking ahead there is a bigger issue out there.   If natural gas prices are so low right now in the middle of winter what will happen later in the year? Natural gas in storage across the country will peak about 10 months from now and there is a real issue out there is there will be sufficient storage for all the gas being produced. Remember also that storage is not likely to have a lot of next expansion given the new regulations being proposed in response to the massive gas leak in California. Mark my words, there will be a while new paradigm for gas markets come October when there may not be enough storage space for all the natural gas in the United States.Could we ever get to a point where natural gas prices in Pennsylvania go negative? Certainly no more inconceivable than negative interest rates which are becoming ever more common. Negative prices are even something that has almost happened in some North American oil markets.(that number has since been corrected to be marginally positive, but not by much)

And just a curious lack of news coverage on this other bit of economic news. This week one headline was that the Unemployment rate in the Pittsburgh region is down to 4.8. What is actually more interesting in the very same data, and even in the very same press release, is that the estimate for unemployment rate among CITY of Pittsburgh residents has dropped down to 3.8%, which is pretty amazing for an urban core city. If that statistic does not strike you as interesting, take a second to look at a brief discussion of what is considered full employment in the United States. Still, the city's unemployment rate was  not mentioned at all in the stories I see.  Just for comparison, what is the unemployment rate in the CITY of Detroit? Almost 3 times higher than in the city of Pittsburgh at 10.9% as of December 2015. Here is a related question...  How many urban core cities have significantly lower unemployment rates than the regions that surround them? See if anyone follows that thread.

Add those two stories together and what do you get?  Lots of talk of how local economic growth has been driven by shale gas development. True for sure, but to what degree? Note that natural gas production in Pennsylvania peaked last June, but it has not had that much impact on local unemployment rates. Go figure.

That's it. I do have one other pro-forma post after this, but that will be it for a while. At best little new content will be here until the very end of the year or possibly 2017.  For those checking in, thanks and take care. Didn't have time to do this earlier, so I thought I would formally Sign off (note this link will not mean much to anyone under 30 40, i.e. those who grew up on terrestrial TV)

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The unspeakable merger of Pittsburgh and Wilkinsburg

It looks like talks are ongoing about a possible merger (annexation?) of Wilkinsburg school district into the Pittsburgh School district.  Actually, the talk is more about whether the Wilkinsburg students will attend schools in Pittsburgh. Actually getting rid of the school district is a more difficult matter. School districts are distinct political entities, but would it make sense for the two districts to continue to exist long into the future if the student transfer lasted for long into the future? It begs other questions about what the future is of any future consolidation of municipal services between the City of Pittsburgh and the Borough of Wilkinsburg?  Remember the city of Pittsburgh already provides garbage collection and fire services to Wilkinsburg.

What if..  yes, what if... Wilkinsburg merges with the City of Pittsburgh?

Unthinkable?  Disruptive? If the city of Pittsburgh (2014 population estimate = 305,705) merges with the Borough of Wilkinsburg (population 15,930) then the 'new' City of Pittsburgh with a population of 321,635 will move from being the 62nd largest city in the United States to become the....  55th largest city.  OMG. Too much change to think about.  Soon who knows? Pittsburgh will merge with Fox Chapel and then who knows what will happen next?

One thing I can almost guarantee if any solid merger were to become possible.. the adjustment to Wilkinsburg's incredibly high property tax rates will be capitalized into real estate values pretty quickly.  In other words...  the potential land speculation in Wilkinsburg will have already started. .

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Veterans in Pittsburgh

With the president in town addressing the VFW convention here, here is the most recent factoid on the population of veterans in the Pittsburgh region:

Period of Military Service of civilian veterans age 18 and older
Pittsburgh MSA, 2013

Gulf War (9/2001 or later), no Gulf War (8/1990 to 8/2001), no Vietnam Era
Gulf War (9/2001 or later) and Gulf War (8/1990 to 8/2001), no Vietnam Era 5,106
Gulf War (9/2001 or later), and Gulf War (8/1990 to 8/2001), and Vietnam Era 569
Gulf War (8/1990 to 8/2001), no Vietnam Era 15,459
Gulf War (8/1990 to 8/2001) and Vietnam Era 1,198
Vietnam Era, no Korean War, no World War II 60,019
Vietnam Era and Korean War, no World War II 291
Vietnam Era and Korean War and World War II 271
Korean War, no Vietnam Era, no World War II 21,631
Korean War and World War II, no Vietnam Era 1,078
World War II, no Korean War, no Vietnam Era 15,806
Between Gulf War and Vietnam Era only 22,456
Between Vietnam Era and Korean War only 20,695
Between Korean War and World War II only 1,576
Pre-World War II only 67

Compiled from American Community Survey 2013 1-year estimates

Earlier I looked in more detail at the trend in the number of Post 9/11 era veterans in Pittsburgh.

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Monday, July 20, 2015

Parsing data on H1B Visa's

If you ever wanted to parse H1B Visa data, there is no need.  It's been done. See: What will America pay for H1-B Jobs? by Nilesh Jethwa... on the Data Science Central blog.  The post looks like it was from a while ago but was tweeted about today and I've never seen that data parsed in detail before. Now I know where to direct questions I get on that.

Note the interactive US Map he has there among other infographics.  You may note that it shows 550 approved H1B Visa's for Allegheny County in 2013, which may seem like a lot, but there are are 2,200 for Oakland County, Michigan and around 11,700 for the combined Dallas and Collin Counties of Texas.  Allegheny County does have more than say Cuyahoga County (Cleveland), with 379 and Hamilton County, OH (Cincinnati) with 345.

Also, there is little spillover beyond the urban core here is what my eyeball says.  Beaver County here, for example, is showing one (1) approved H1B Visa.  I guess to be complete, the site lists this for the counties in the MSA:

Allegheny - 550
Armstrong - No data
Beaver - 1
Butler - 25
Fayette - 8
Washington - 160
Westmoreland - 12

Personally I wonder what some of these numbers would have looked like, or similar professional worker immigration stats looked like, before Westinghouse demerged in the 1990s.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015


The Department of Commerce has updated 2014 data on international exports at the MSA level.  They have a concise infographic of most of the summary data for international exports from Pittsburgh here.

But I was looking at some of the detailed data over the last few years and the headline seems to be that Pittsburgh is seeing a rapid drop in its international exports in recent years and 2014 is the third consecutive annual drop in the value of total international exports originating in Pittsburgh. Here is the trend I see:

Not much notice I see of the 30+% drop in value since 2011 and in particular the big drop between 2012 and 2013 which was in last year's data. The two biggest exports we have?  Industries labeled 'Primary metals' and 'mining (except oil and gas)', which translates to steel and coal. Probably more of the specialty steel in the export numbers I bet, but still.  The drop in exports looks like it is all related to mining and thus declining coal exports since 2011/2012... and it had been increasing mining exports that is also singularly responsible for the big run up in exports between 2009 and 2011.  I think mining is actually responsible for most of the volatility in this time series in general.  

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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The exceptional tenure of Pittsburghers

While I take note of an interesting article (h/t @BurghDiaspora) from a Tulane geographer explaining that most perceptions of regional exceptionalism are misconstrued.  See: The Seduction of Exceptionalism, which is a great read, especially for Pittsburghers. However, like Freud said: The paranoid is never entirely mistaken, so sometimes there is truth in uniqueness.   So it goes in Pittsburgh at least with this.

I was inspired by this metropolitan benchmarking out of Philadelphia from BillyPenn: Parochial Philly: Is the city too hostile to ‘outsiders’, and does that hold us back?  Also a great read for Pittsburghers.  Their datapoint is a benchmarking of how many local residents live in their current state of residence.  Note their benchmarking shows Pittsburgh a more extreme case than Philly to begin with.   But I threw out there a comment that Pittsburgh is always the worst in this type of metric, and then realized I had not actually calculated that in some time... so maybe it was no longer the case.  I felt obliged to check.  

A more common benchmarking over the years is much more about very local geographic mobility, or lack thereof.  There is typically a question in official surveys (like the ACS) asking how long a householder has lived in their current place of residence.  Literally how long they have resided at their current addresss.  From that answer you can compute the size of the population broken down by tenure of the householder. If you do a breakdown of the size of the population whose householder has lived in their current housing unit in the oldest category it has long worked out that Pittsburgh always comes out on top. i.e.  we have a lot of folks who have lived in their current homes a long time, more so than what is typical elsewhere.

Has that changed? 'New' Pittsburgh and all?  Looks like it has not even budged much for the metro benchmarking. Here is what I get for the most recent data I like to use which is the 5 year ACS data.

How much does that graphic explain everything else here?

Yes, I suspect this is one of those metrics heavily impacted by age, but it is more than that. And note that age demographics impacts Pittsburgh far differently than say 'old' regions of Florida where many residents have moved upon retirement. For Pittsburgh aging is very much an aging in place phenomenon.  So you see not only that we are the extreme region in this calculation and the comparison among large metros, albeit it is a bit of a contrived metric.. but we are a big jump above #2.  Beyond the sheer older age demographic still in the region, there is this issue of housing price trends over recent decades.  The Pittsburgh region, lacking much equity appreciation in real estate, probably trapped more householders in their current residence as compared to so many other places where value was gained as housing prices went up.  Lacking that equity, it probably was harder to move into newer housing, even as household situations changed over a lifetime. That is my hypothesis at least, but I'd be glad to argue its veracity with anyone who thinks otherwise.

Anyone want to do the same benchmarking/calculation for the city?

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Monday, July 13, 2015

How I learned to stop worrying and love Downtown retail

As I type there are almost 200 comments on the PG's coverage of Downtown Macy's store to close. Basically, the closings of the Macy's location (née Kaufmann's) is some sort of emotional touchstone for all things Pittsburgh. That scale of commentariat borders on the kvetching you might get on the sports desk. Maybe it is because so many of us stared into those Christmas decorated windows.

Back when poor old Lazarus closed, after a very brief tenure in Downtown Pittsburgh, it was hard to wade through the angst it caused. People talked as if the failure of a failed investment was somehow a sign of doom for all things Downtown. If I had an oped to say on all this today, it would be close to a verbatim repeat of this from some years ago: Is Downtown dead? Hardly.  

If you want something more current, or at least more quantitative, see my post from a couple years ago digging into what is happening in Downtown employment trends.I'll summarize by pointing out that the number of jobs located downtown today is almost identical to what it was 50 years ago, or 20 years ago.. but there is a big change in the composition of those jobs. As time as gone by the retail jobs in downtown has clearly gone down as institutions like Gimbles, Grants, Hornes, Buyers' Mart, briefly Lazarus and Lord and Taylor, Saks, Ralphs, and now Kaufmann's/Macy's have departed or are about to be gone. Most all of those stores were pretty sizable job centers unto themselves.

So if the total number of jobs has remained even roughly the same, then other jobs must be growing. Now realize that retail jobs are not very well paying, and the jobs that have been growing Downtown clearly have been better paying. Thus that big jump in average pay per job located Downtown that I detailed in that post.

Obligatory to mention of course the vast Fifth and Forbes imbroglio that was a touchstone far beyond this.  I really wonder if there was not such an emotional pull to save the hat store and the wig store in the demolition footprint, if the history might have turned out differently.  Those shows, or maybe even the new stores that could have replaced them, might have soon found themselves in the footprint of a new skyscraper getting closer to completion right now.  I wonder how many of the 120 or so businesses that everyone fought so hard to save, are around today? The idea was that Fifth and Forbes should be replaced by smaller scale initiatives in the corridor and keep the buildings individually owned. How did that work out?

Still, Downtown retail really is one of those things virtually everyone seems obliged to 'save'. See this from a few years ago: Mayor's roundtable to beef up Downtown retail district. Just one of innumerable commissions we hear about, but rarely see much follow up on.  If the question is jobs.. jobs uber alles right? then remember that there really is no jobs gain from any shift in local retail activity. It is all displacement from an ever declining pie.

And if you really care about figuring out what is happening in Downtown retail.. maybe it is time to repeat a study once completed long ago (or just yesterday in Pittsburgh time) by my friend Jim: Who shops Downtown and why?  Probably won't happen.  Easier to kvetch.

as an addendum or cheat sheet...  You either know about Ralph's or you don't. If you are old enough you know about W T Grant.  But Buyers' Mart is another matter altogether.  Once a major retail establishment just on the edge of Downtown that the URA supported the Buncher company to redevelop in an attempt to revitalize the Strip District.  A strategy repeated in several different decades.

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Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Pittsburgh manufacturing

Pittsburgh manufacturing is in the news today.  See: PBT for example Why Pittsburgh will be getting a boost in its manufacturing efforts

A factoid I missed in the latest jobs report, but if you do the division it turns out that for the Pittsburgh region, the percentage of jobs in manufacturing industries has dropped to a new all-time low in the May data.  Manufacturing industries provide under 7.5% of all non-farm jobs in the Pittsburgh MSA for the first time ever.  Might be relevant when reading about the new efforts today.

Early on, manufacturing jobs had seen some slight rebound locally, and an even bigger and steady rebound nationally, from the lows hit during the most recent recession... but Pittsburgh manufacturing jobs have not followed the national trend since.. pretty flat in recent years and not keeping up with overall regional job growth... thus the percentage of jobs in manufacturing took a jump downward in the most recently monthly data.  As always, don't focus on the monthly change as much as the trend...

Anyways, here is what I get for the time series:

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Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Tech based entrepreneurship

Vanity alert, but given all the interest in technology based economic development of late, some may be interested in this book coming out: Routledge Handbook of Politics and Technology,  Edited by Ulrich Hilpert, Friedrich Schiller Universität, Jena, Germany. September 2015.

See the complete sales flyer here.

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Thursday, July 02, 2015

Tough times in the T

Here is another look at what is happening to mining jobs in Pennsylvania. One recently under-appreciated headline is about the potential loss of 400+ jobs at a shale services company in Indiana, PA. Trib: Halliburton to close Indiana County office. 400 jobs is a lot for Indiana County which has a total employment of roughly 27K, so about 1.5% of all jobs located in the county and I bet the % loss in payroll income is even higher. According to the state, Halliburton was the 11th largest employer in the county, and by my eyeballing of that list, the 7th largest private sector employer. So a big deal. It would be like a single firm dropping 10K jobs in Allegheny County.

While a lot of those jobs are not being lost outright, most of the jobs are moving to Ohio according to news reports. But the nonfarm payroll jobs data are a count of jobs by place of work, so all the jobs will be a net loss to the job count in Indiana County and most will be lost in Pennsylvania data.

But Indiana County is outside of the Pittsburgh MSA technically. I only point that out because I was thinking more about the job loss in Mining and Logging jobs I mentioned last week. While the statewide loss in mining and logging jobs last month was one of the highest monthly drops ever recorded, it is true that the same sector saw a net gain in jobs in Pittsburgh over the same period. So again I'll put up what I come up with for the mining and logging jobs in Pennsylvania net of Pittsburgh MSA data. That presents an even starker trends of what is happening across most of Pennsylvania between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

So here is what I get for the month over month change in employment in Mining and Logging jobs for Pennsylvania net of data for the Pittsburgh MSA.The red is the most recent data for the change between April and May of this year.

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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Obamacare and Pittsburgh

Just a question for someone else to try and answer... but says: The Supreme Court’s Obamacare Decision Is Already Worth $3 Billion For Insurers

Begs a Pittsburgh question... What is the Obamacare decision worth to Pittsburgh's economy?  Maybe a bit more holistically....  What will the Affordable Care Act mean to the Pittsburgh economy in the long run?  Seems like one of those things someone should have looked at by now?

If only Mr. Windle was a nurse and not a teacher, there would be some better PR on this.

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

'New' data and Pittsburgh's Hispanic populations

So here is a funny thing. I know many are excited by the headline that the Hispanic population locally is going up. See this version in the Trib: Hispanic migration to Western Pennsylvania double national rate

You know, the equally true headline could be "Growth in Pittsburgh's Hispanic population is slowing"

That's right. The news in the numbers just out are not actually new in any form. The annual growth rate of, for example Allegheny County's Hispanic Population has been coming in at 4 or more percent for many years... at least according to the data being reported on today. Don't believe me.. here is the data behind the headline today except not limited to just the most recent year: Here is the annual growth rate in Allegheny County's Hispanic population since 2010:

Allegheny County Hispanic Population 2010-2014:

Change over previous year
2014 23,377 921 4.1%
2013 22,456 1,046 4.9%
2012 21,410 1,134 5.6%
2011 20,276 1,074 5.6%
2010 19,202

Source: Census Bureau Population Estimates


So seriously, the latest data show a clear slowing in the growth rate. That darn 2nd derivative.  The positive trend here is actually nothing new.  But if you wonder how that fits into the larger story that the Hispanic population in Pittsburgh is extremely small, realize that the size of that population is so low that even if the local growth rate exceeds the national growth rate by several percentage points, it still will take decades to really catch up to what is a national average. and that assumes there is no more slowing of the trend locally. 

To a large degree, the nation as a whole is so much more Hispanic than Pittsburgh that as normal migration flows continue, just the normal churn of population will increase the Hispanic population locally.  It does not really mean Pittsburgh is changing as much as the nation has changed so much more and since the region is not completely an island, a reversion to the mean is a bit inevitable. The real question is why it is not happening faster than it is.

It also does not imply that we have become a magnet for recent international immigrants.. the headline is about the Hispanic population which is not the same thing. Those two groups get conflated in Pittsburgh to a degree they just don't elsewhere.  The latest data on international immigration, which is in the same census dataset as referenced above, gives us this benchmarking of the 2013-2014 net international migration for Pittsburgh compared to other metro areas:

So Pittsburgh is decidedly last... and if you dispute that then you must also not believe the numbers above.  Both are from the same Census Bureau estimates data for 2014. Go figure.


Someone strongly suggested to me that this all is big news because the higher rate of growth in the region's Hispanic population is still a recent break in trend.. that around 2008 or so this all changed.  Turns out no. Below is the annual percentage change for Allegheny County's Hispanic population going back to 2000-2001. Throw a trendline on that data and then re-read the current headlines. The growth rate seeming generating headlines this year (and curiously never before in the past in my memory) is actually the lowest rate for any year in that period with only one exception between 2004-5. The most interesting thing in all of this is that this is a news story at all.  But again, the new data brings me back to the efforts here going back to 2001 specifically focused on bringing more of the Hispanic population to Pittsburgh.

Actually the 2007-2008 timeline is when total net migration into Pittsburgh turned positive, but that it is something else.

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Sunday, June 21, 2015

Mr. Windle gets a haircut

Not exactly lost, but not much noticed either is the big loss of jobs in mining and logging industry sector in the latest dump of Pennsylvania jobs data.  How big a loss?  Total jobs in the mining and logging sector dropped 1,000 in May day compared to just a month prior.  Is that a big drop?  Basically the single biggest month over month loss since 1990 with the sole exception of June 1993 when the jobs count went down 1,200.  The time series of the monthly delta looks like this:

But is even June 1993 comparable to the recent downward blip?  June 1993 was the first full month of a major multi-state coal strike that would stretch through the end of the year.  The big job loss that month likely reflects a lot of those jobs as workers temporarily were on strike.  I am pretty sure the current job loss is not the result of any strike anywhere.

So of course the loss still is only a small fraction of the big run up in jobs in the same sector since 2008.  Still, if this is more than a one-off kind of month, and this rate of loss continues then there is something important going on.  What is curious is that the job loss does not really show up in any mass layoff disclosed to the state this year.

To be sure, the net job loss is across the whole industry sector which is not limited to natural gas. Coal in particular is a big part of the state's mining industry and coal firms are laying off.  Still, the lack of a mass layoff notice that correlates with the 1,000 job loss makes me think it is spread out across a larger number of smaller firms which may be the vast support sector for the shale industry. But we will be able to parse that much better in a few months, so hold that thought.  For now we just know the net job loss is pretty big in total.

What does it mean?  As always, take monthly data with a grain of salt.  If this industry job count bounces back next month, or just holds it own, then maybe it was a one time reset of jobs that may have expanded too quickly in recent years.  But if next month loses another big chunk of jobs then the question will be how far will this go and where will the job counts settle. Someone may need to do a study of what career decisions some of those workers made anticipating shale jobs long into the future.

This all comes on the state's methodological reset of the jobs impact of shale development in Pennsylvania.  Until recently, the state counted jobs, but the new methodology announced last week the number of shale jobs in Pennsylvania went from well over 200K to just about 30K instantaneously. if you ever wanted a case study in how methodology is important to measurement, something nobody ever really wants to talk about.  Everyone always just wants the number.

Maybe it is time to restart those annual economic impact reports that turned out to not be annual for very long.

At least one big potential market for natural gas took a big hit last week as well as Honda, the only company in the US to manufacture a natural gas fueled consumer auto, announced that it would cease production of its Civic GX.  There were supposed to be more and more private drivers with natural gas vehicles.  I actually believe there were more folks driving personal natgas vehicles in the city of Pittsburgh a decade or two ago compared to today, but that may be my one anecdotal observation. But I'm sure the fleet uses for the station in the Strip District continue unabated?


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Friday, June 19, 2015

Jobs Über Alles

The latest jobs numbers for Pittsburgh are out and for May 2015 there is a bit of good news.  The latest jobs count for the Pittsburgh MSA is 1,191K non-farm jobs in the 7 county region. That is the the highest jobs count ever recorded for the region and begs the question when the region will go over 1.2 million jobs for the first time.  If it will happen this year, likely to be month we are now in (June) since June is almost always the peak jobs count month for Pittsburgh each year.

But when you are near the peak, even small gains are always going to create a new peak right?  What is better news is that the year over year job gains are back up to what is better number by Pittsburgh standards.  For May 2015, the net gain in non-farm jobs over May 2014 was +19,400.

That may not be the biggest rate of job gains compared to other large metro areas,but still it's the largest year over year gain in over 3 years for Pittsburgh.  For sure, it has been a long long long time since net job growth in Pittsburgh really compared well to anywhere else in the nation.  Thus the lack of in-migration and population growth of course, but still, compared to recent and distant path the nearly +20K annual gain compares well to what has been the norm here for some time. Only 5 months in the last decade have been higher. Here is what the longer term time series looks like:

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Veterans in Pittsburgh

A pretty regular question I get is about the number of veterans in Pittsburgh.  Western Pennsylvania has a lot of veterans for sure, but it is one of those statistics that is heavily, heavily impacted by our older age demographics for sure.  There was a draft in place in the United States from 1940-1946 and 1948-1972. I guess there was a draft technically in 1947, but there were no accessions as the nation drew down after the war.  That and later personnel demands of the Korean and Vietnam wars mean that older generations had much higher rates of military service than recent generations.  

But the question is usually in the context of younger veterans in Pittsburgh, and in particular those who have served since 9/11.  This all came to mind because yesterday there was some interesting data compiled by the Military Times showing the rate of unemployment for veterans in Pittsburgh is 4.0%, which is the lowest rate in this list of comparable data for large cities. Seems pretty noteworthy to me.

But what is the overall trend in the number of younger veterans residing in Pittsburgh?  There is not a master database of veterans you may be surprised to know, certainly not a list that tracks geography of residence and is available to study.  The Department of Veterans Affairs used to model county level estimates of the veterans population by period of service, but I don't find that available any longer. It may exist.  But the VA really is not going to even track you at all if you are not using a VA service and not all veterans do so early in their post-service careers.

So what data do we have?  Here is the trend in what the American Community Says about Pittsburgh's population of veterans who had periods of active service since 9/11. This is or the 7 county MSA and works out to about a net gain of +1K annually on average.

Like all other migration stats, there is no such thing as a net migrant.  For sure more than 1,000 younger veterans arrive in Pittsburgh each year, but like all types of younger folks, many leave as well.  The +1k/year net increase is actually is actually a bit low if you think Pittsburgh attracts an average number of veterans each year.  Each year between 240K and 360K servicemembers leave the military, so that is the number of new veterans with post 9/11 service each year.  The Pittsburgh region (~2.4 million population) is about 0.75% of the US population, so if we attracted a proportional number of veterans it would work out out to between 1,800 and 2,600 new post-9/11 veterans each year.  But the data above is for 5 year periods. If you extrapolate out it give you a current population of ~19K post-9/11 veterans residing in the Pittsburgh MSA.

I am conflating I know the concept of 'younger' veterans with post 9/11 service veterans.  Realize that veterans come in all ages, and even veterans with post-9/11 service can be old.  Some leave the military via retirement so work backwards.  2001 is now 14 years ago and a new military retiree in 2001 was age 40-50 at the time, which works out to 54-64 today.  But most separating servicemembers are much younger on average.

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Saturday, May 23, 2015

Long weekends - shorter memories

These days, I suspect many conflate and confuse the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day, which are not the same thing.  For more explanation you can read about the difference between the two holidays. If you want to use the long weekend for what it was intended for, take some time to visit Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall, which is open for visitors on both Saturday and Memorial Day.

If you do visit Soldiers and Sailors and really want to appreciate what the holiday is about, look down at the bricks, many of which represent recent veterans who lost their lives in combat.   I'll resue the photo I took a few years ago with just one tranch of new bricks. Each of these are of local servicemembers KIA in recent years including: Sgt Russell Kurtz,  Cpl Russell Grant CulbertsonSgt. 1st Class Daniel A. BrozovichSgt. Thomas Vandling Jr.Pfc. Shelby J. FenielloSPC George A MitchellCpl Dennis Veater.  

I suspect there have been more new bricks added since then.

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Ever-changing existential estimation

I think I went through this more than enough earlier in the week, but the actual municipal population estimates are out.  I do feel bad for the folks who try to report on such esoteric wonkery, mostly because the history keeps getting rewritten to the main points of past stories are obviated. Trying to explain all of that in a few words is a pain.

Thus on the topic most focus on in this data, is the city of Pittsburgh growing? I've compiled (below) how the recent population estimates for the city of Pittsburgh have been changing with each successive reporting cycle.  Where there was growth one year there can be decline the following.  Thus the tyranny of revisions.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Maps... just because

I'll refine these and add more here when I get time, but for the quick review of what happened yesterday here are the maps for city and county controller races yesterday.  Parsing to follow.

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Monday, May 18, 2015

Is the city of Pittsburgh growing?

While the civically obsessed await the results from the off-year election going on, here is a question for later in the week. Is the city of Pittsburgh growing?

Scheduled to be released this week is the latest annual data point for population in the city of Pittsburgh as of July 2014.  Last December 2014 population estimates for the nation and individual states were released. In March the comparable 2014 data for individual counties and metropolitan areas came out. What will come out this week completes the data trifecata for the year with population estimates for individual municipalities to include the city of Pittsburgh.

Whether the city of Pittsburgh is growing is a matter of moderate public debate and I assure you everyone has some very strong ideas on whether the population trends in the city are positive or negative, and as often as not debate with references to regional, county and city population trends conflated to the point of confusion. But looking to the future this is an important thing with a mayoral goal I hear about of growing the city by 20,000 over a coming decade, though the starting point for that calculation seems to keep slipping. Population growth has also been at least implicitly part of the debate over what impact things like the Pittsburgh Promise can have on the city of Pittsburgh.

What do we think we know?  For sure the city of Pittsburgh has been declining in population since the 1930s.  Some say since the 40s or 50s, but population growth recorded between 1930 and 1940 is really the result of some annexations that expanded the geography of the city of Pittsburgh. Account for that and the actual population in the city of Pittsburgh proper was already pushing downward back then.  Yet a few years ago the buzz was about the first recorded population increase for the city of Pittsburgh in many many decades when estimates for 2011 showed population increase between 2010 and 2011.

To oversimplify a complicated subject, these annual population estimates become ever more problematic the smaller the scale of geography. So municipal level population estimates have issues that are not so bad at county, MSA or state levels. A case in point is the population increase first observed for the city of Pittsburgh between 2010 and 2011 per the news in the previous link.  You may read my contemporaneous moderation in talking about the growth estimated at +1,780 that year. It just did not seem right and I knew the numbers would not hold up.

Indeed in revisions the very next year, the population growth over that same period was re-estimated to be only +392, or 77% smaller than originally reported.  A much smaller, but still positive, change, and for the city of Pittsburgh even population stabilization is a pretty big story.  The revision I can explain in multiple ways having to do with data revisions to some college dormitories numbers in the city and also due to some temporary methodology changes the Census folks used that year, but soon abandoned.

For the city of Pittsburgh the data picture gets more conflicted actually.  The primary data input for population estimates for individual municipalities is the population change for the counties where they rest. The previous year's data on population change (between 2012 an 2013), Allegheny County was estimated to have increased by +2,579 , but the city of Pittsburgh was estimated to have returned to decline of 348  This year, we already know the estimated population change between 2013-2014 for Allegheny county is actually a decline of 1,698, so the estimated change for the city of Pittsburgh is going to be negative, the question is really just by how much. We can debate ad nauseam how close the estimated get to ground truth.

 There is a side story to all of this of note. As mentioned here in the past, the main input to the municipal level breakdown of population change within a county is the pattern of building permits issued by municipality. One odd thing discussed here in the past is that the data the city of Pittsburgh itself reports on the number of building permits has zero in any multiple unit structures between 2005 and 2013. Since it seems pretty obvious there were building permits issued for new multiple unit structures, you have to wonder if the population estimates that resulted were biased downward in some way. The census methodology is only as good as the data it uses, and the building permits data is self reported by municipalities so if true the city only has itself to blame in some way. It looks like that might have just changed with the latest building permits data for the city reporting a new 215-unit building permit issued in December 2014.  Then there is an even more complicated subject over whether housing unit conversions are property recorded in the data for the city.

I won't even begin to go into natural population trends impacting the city of Pittsburgh.

Yes, I could go on.. but enough yes?

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Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Changing demographics within Allegheny County

City Paper is venturing into new media, kind of, with what appears to be a Prezi turned video look at some of the changing demographics in Allegheny County. Story is here from last week, but this is the video on Youtube:

I think what they miss a bit is that the trends they highlight have been part of an ongoing trend within Allegheny County going back a long time, it really  isn't something from the last decade in itself.  I had a pseudo-video version of some maps showing this:

But if you want ever more stats on affordable housing issues in Pittsburgh, see this compendium: ESTIMATING THE SUPPLY AND DEMAND OF AFFORDABLE HOUSING IN ALLEGHENY COUNTY

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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

100 months and counting

So I know the news makes all things sound so dire, but nonetheless the latest dump of labor force data puts Pittsburgh past 100 months since the local unemployment rate was above the national unemployment rate. There really has not been such an extended period that has ever happened in the past, at least as far back as labor force data was routinely reported at a regional level in the 1940s. Indeed the convergence between the two trends we need to watch, and I would not be surprised if the trend comes to and end, at least briefly, at some point this year... but in graphic below green is better than red....

Worth noting that the 2014 numbers are likely to be revised so we will see what this all looks like after those numbers get re-reported.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A tale of two school districts

It is hard to reconcile these two news stories.....

Last week there as this passing headline:  A $110 million upgrade at Mount Lebanon High School. Of note to Mount Lebanon taxpayers I suppose, but not much to notice elsewhere.

and then pick any recent headline being generated by the ongoing miasma of the Duquesne City School District where the state forced the high school to close and then forced neighboring school districts to take in  the refugee students against their wishes.  Think it was voluntary that the neighboring school districts took the kids in? See this recent headline: West Mifflin Area to sue for tuition reimbursement.

To be clearer, I guess the students are not refugees, since you typically need to cross an international border to be considered a refugee. So they are internally displaced students I suppose. Seriously, this does not happen elsewhere in the developed world writ large. Why is there not daily news/punditry on what is happening in Duquesne?  Not the feel good story is my only hypothesis.

Nothing against Mount Lebanon making whatever investment it thinks it needs, but it is just shocking that everyone treats the ongoing implosion of the Duquesne City School District as normal at this point.

For all the talk of New Pittsburgh, realize that in most any other part of the country the city of Duquesne would not exist as a separate municipality, but instead would have been absorbed long long ago into the center city... i.e. Pittsburgh. So it is a geographic (and political) fiction to think of it as a distinct place from the city of Pittsburgh proper and it is certainly part of Pittsburgh writ large.

Maybe some ratio analysis to put the scale of this in perspective.  Population under age 18 in Duquesne in 2010 =  1,513.   For comparison population under 18 in Braddock (which gets to attend Woodland Hills schools anyway) was 605.  So I guess we need 2.5 new restaurants to save Duquesne.

Nobody is talking of bringing a high school back to Duquesne.  Greater talk is of the entire school district shutting down. Maybe other school Pennsylvania school districts can just close up shop and send all their students to wherever the state decrees they must be taken in.  These other school districts typically fight against this, but have lost their legal actions to stop it from happening. Wilkinsburg is reported of late to be trying to send its students to neighborhing school districts, but have only been rebuffed outright.

Of course, Duquesne might be an extreme case, but not really far from the state of many Pennsylvania school districts, 500 in all.  Thus what may be percolating at least in the Governor's office, if not in the state legislature. See the Washington Post today which prompted this little diatribe:   Pa. schools are the nation’s most inequitable. The new governor wants to fix that.  

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