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
9,656
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

Exports

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 fivethirtyeight.com 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:

Year
Hispanic 
Population
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

Surprised?

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.

update:

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.  .....so 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?

#whoismrwindle


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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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Thursday, April 09, 2015

and again Pittsburgh immigration

Now well over a decade ago Pittsburgh made the front page of the New York Times for the unique and focused efforts here to attract immigrants to the city and region.  See: NYT (2001): To Fill Gaps, Cities Seek Wave of Immigrants. A couple years later the WSJ would run this type of story in 2003: Pittsbrugh Trying To Lure Latinos.Might be a good time to look back to see what has changed over the subsequent decade.

Lots of factors impact the flow of immigrants into a region. Lots of itinerant populations are here due to things like students on temporary visas (who for the most part can't stay) and professional workers who are also here only temporarily, such as those with H1B visas.  Many eventually convert to a more permanent visa status, but in the long run the question is who comes here to stay.  Thus a measure of whether immigrants are choosing to come to Pittsburgh and stay is arguably the number of permanent naturalizations that happen in Western Pennsylvania.

2001-2003 was bad timing for immigration-focused efforts anywhere as post-9/11 changes slowed dramatically the flow of new immigrants into the country for a time.  But that flow returned over the decade, as it did in Pittsburgh.  Still, the latest numbers recently out for 2013 show the current level of naturalizations in Pittsburgh just about where they were in 2003.  Seems to be a plateau between 1,300 and 1,500 a year here.  This low level is a Pittsburgh thing, and just for comparison Cleveland recorded 3,076 naturalizations in 2013. Even Cincinnati comes in around twice Pittsburgh's number with over 2,700. Proportional to the region's population the numbers don't get much lower.





While the overall number of naturalizations is much the same as a decade prior, the actual characteristics of new residents here appears to be changing. You can breakdown the chart above into place of birth of those being naturalized.  For Pittsburgh the number of naturalizations generated from folks born in Mexico and South America is pretty stable, but remarkably now below the number of naturalizations of folks born in Africa, which quadrupled in Pittsburgh from 2003 to 2013.  Nationally that ratio is about half has many from Africa as from Mexico and South America. This may relate to a Pew note out this week on how a rising share of the Black U.S. population is foreign born.

Sorry the 2nd chart starts in 2003.  Hard to get the comparable data for 2002, but will gladly update if anyone has it?

Still the focus here a decade ago as much geared toward attracting Hispanic immigrants.It looks to me that the increasing trends have been mostly in immigrants from Asia, which includes the subcontinent, but the smaller but increasing trends from Africa and elsewhere in North America. I may need to look into if/how much of the surge in Asian-born naturalizations here comes from the surge of Bhutanese into the greater Cleveburgh region.



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Monday, April 06, 2015

The city's pension solution that wasn't

Believe it or not, this is a post about the Pirates.  Opening day has come and the anticipation is abuzz with variations of a theme for the Pirates prospects this year. See for example Deadspin: The Pittsburgh Pirates should be America's Team this season.  I, of course, am more interested in the latest iteration of Forbes' valuation of the team which values the Pirates at a mere $900 million.  A playoff win this year might jump the team over an even $billion.

It all might not have been. Long forgotten is the not-terribly-distant history that could easily have put the Pirates anywhere else but Pittsburgh. In 1985, the Galbreath family, which had owned the Pirates since the 1940s announced their intention to sell the team. For a city in the depth of miasmic economic restructuring, there were multiple obvious choices for a new location for the team and the Galbreaths clearly left open the possibility the team would move as part of any sale.

So the city of Pittsburgh, out of its excessive budget surpluses of the 1980s, loaned a consortium of private and nonprofit sector owners $20 million dollars to purchase the team in 1986. That works out close to $50 million in cash today. The consortium of new owners was named the Pittsburgh Associates and is still the owner of the team and the MLB franchise here, though the original owners have long since sold their shares of the team.   The whole deal was described as a "Public Private" partnership and headline described the deal as: Pirates sold to mayor, steel city businesses.  So the city was clearly the glue of the whole financial alchemy.

While the city's contribution was technically structured as a loan, it really wasn't. It retained much of the risk of the formal equity partners. The city didn't actually have that kind of cash lying around and  needed to finance $20 million fronted to the team with a bond issued in 1986.  The interest rate charged (8%) to the team owners by the city was actually deferred almost every year, while the required bond payments (which could not be deferred) were eaten directly by city taxpayers.

As a thought exercise, imagine the city's $20 million was an equity investment in the team. Just for fun, let's ignore any potential legal problems with that counterfactual. The actual transaction price was $26 million, split nearly equally among the 13 private partners. Thinking of the collective capitalization, the city's contribution would have made the city over 40% owners of the team going forward.  Fun to think about, but it would place the city's share at a value of at least $360 million these days.  That much cash would not completely solve the city's pension problems, but redefine the problem entirely.

Of course, that is all daydreaming.  The city will not benefit from the equity gain in the pirates in recent decades I'm sure.  But where did the value come from?  If you look at Forbes complete list of MLB team valuations you see some interesting things.  A proxy for profit is "operating income" and the lowly Pirates show up as having the 5th highest operating income in all of MLB.  Calculating operating income as a proportion of total revenue looks to me that the Pirates come in a remarkable 3rd.  Winning record, losing record... the team has had a financial success all of its own for many years.

Looking back it is more remarkable that the city found it politically possible to front such a large amount to a set of private sector investors to buy a major professional sports team.  Hard to imagine anything that risky could be pushed forward today with a chunk of public money that size.


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Sunday, April 05, 2015

How many popes have ever visited Pittsburgh?

With Easter, the news is percolating on the previously announced visit of Pope Francis to Philadelphia later this year.  No sign he will come to Pittsburgh, but begs the question how many pontiffs have ever come to Pittsburgh.  The answer is nonzero. At least two I count.  More?

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Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Move over Pierogies - Cupcakes to be named official food of (New) Pittsburgh

Really.  Say goodbye to the Pittsburgh Pierogi..   and the unofficial mascot - the Primanti French Fry. In the future, it will all be about the cupcake.

No, really.

Ok, ok... just in honor of April 1, it is worth going back and remembering our great cupcake obsession here in Pittsburgh.  Yes, there was once a time BG20 (Before the G-20) that Pittsburgh was so desperate for positive economic stories that the faintest smell of cupcakes in town drove everyone into a state of near-rapture. It was so weird because it ran in the face of just what Pittsburgh was, the place which once set records for Ho-Ho consumption (though I pointed out the number reported was just to sweet to believe and was later corrected) and where the mere rumor of free-pies would set off public panics.

Think I'm misremembering our cupcake obsession?  I refer you to Mike who summarizes it all so much better: The Truthiness of the Cupcake Class. Yes, Mike and I were once seriously 'quoted' in the paper from blog postings attesting to our belief in the economic impact of cupcakes here. Only after the fact was the online version rewritten to reflect the satire that was dripping.

If that is not enough to explain what a big deal this was around town. This all inspired the great cupcake trifecta in the Post-Gazette. Again Mike: What's behind the bite-sized baked good boom.  My own contribution: Cupcake Econometrics 101 Every number in that is quite real by the way since I refuse to put fake data into record, April 1 or not. And then from cupcake aficionado Rachel Kramer Bussel: Why Cupcakes are Hot! The original title must itself have been too hot, since it now reads The Allure of Upscale Cupcakes.




Mike also had the epilogue asking all this long before me. Is Pittsburgh a post-cupcake city? Apres the cupcake: Pittsburgh's Deluge.

Few post-mortems on what happened to the cupcake establishments in town have been written, certainly a small fraction of the ink when they started up.  Most of the former dedicated cupcakeries are gone, but the local French bakery quotient seems to be skyrocketing.  I do need to update my regional benchmarking of bakeries per capita.

Never fear,... just a joke.  In fact, not only have we gotten over the cupcake obsession but there is a newfound appreciation for our food heritage.  Especially in food, the New(tech) Pittsburgh has met old in ways unimagined of a decade ago. I talk about things such as the Fish Fry App (and the Fish Fry Google Map) widely used during lent, but now there is the ever more useful throughout the year: PieroGIS; the Pittsburgh Pierogi map. And with the news of the ever shrinking Heinz in town here, the real Heinz heritage (think Pickles) may live on in new Pittsburgh-themed gourmet Pickels.

For those still reading.. still one of the funnier economic development stories to read long after the fact.  For all the success of new development in East Liberty and the East End (no longer referred to as Eastside??) the original plan to build the Whole Foods market on Centre Ave. was to have it paired with a Krispy Creme donuterie (are you reading out there @DanFitzWSJ?).  Such a Pittsburgh idea, not that it came to pass.

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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Pittsburgh's Pickle

There was an article out recently about how cities suffer a persistence of memory. (NextCity: How a City's Collective Memory May Predict Its Future) You have to wonder about that given the glaring example of the great Ketchup story this week past.

Of course the big business news of last week was the announcement that the food conglomerates Heinz and Kraft were merging. The news sent everyone in Pittsburgh into a tizzy, with both city and county struggling to respond to the publicity, though I wonder if any local politicians were consulted before any of this happened, or what local policies really have any impact on big business decisions like this.

Times change, dude!




The reaction to the news really is curious.  Given all the talk of new Pittsburgh and all the various catalysts talked about: eds and meds, high tech, Marcellus (and related) Shale... etc, etc, there rarely is ever any mention of food manufacturing.  Granted it was a big part of history here, but we are talking some ancient history at this point. Pittsburgh's Heinz roots date back long into the 19th century (talk about memory) and for a long time ketchup has been.. well, just ketchup.  In fact some say Ketchup has suffered from an innovation problem for years (New Yorker: The Ketchup Conundrum).

Even Big news jumped into the fray over what this all means for Pittsburgh.  No less than the WSJ asked: In Kraft Deal, Will Pittsburgh or Chicago lose more jobs? But how many jobs are here? WSJ mentioned a number that 800 Heinz jobs remain in Pittsburgh.  I wonder if the number is that high?  To start, the venerable producer of Ketchup has not actually produced any condiment, or any other product for that matter, locally in at least a dozen years. (as noted by the NYT years ago: Pittsburgh's Time of Transition) So really no manufacturing employment at all. Saving jobs at Heinz is mostly about whether the remaining headquarters staff will remain here in Pittsburgh. But again, has anyone asked what is remaining?

Seems like a recurring story in that just two years ago we went through this all when Warren Buffet and his Brazilian partners bought Heinz outright. Everyone wondered what would happen to what was left of Heinz back then. One of the stories that followed that transaction was some layoffs and focused buyout offers the new management apparently offered just to its Pittsburgh employees. Those past stories said that Pittsburgh based employment at Heinz was coming down pretty drastically from 1,200 to 800 workers here. That # I am guessing is the source of the 800 number recently quoted in the WSJ article this week. Is that # still valid given all the changes going on down there? Sure sounds like a lot of staff has been leaving from those news stories. I really have to believe the current employment numbers, at least in the city, are really more like half the lower number.

There are also some folks working at Heinz's Food Innovation Center in Warrendale, jobs that they have also been cutting back on in recent years according to the news. Though outside the city of Pittsburgh proper, I presume there still are test batches of ketchup made there, so yes, Heinz still does make Ketchup here. Kraft has it's own research programs as well, which they appear to have been focusing on improving in recent years, so there will be an impact there of this merger for sure. Hopefully this link is not a premonition of the division's future.




Whether the current employment count is 400, 800 or something in between, how big is that to Pittsburgh? Are all of those jobs at risk? Of course, every job matters to the person employed, but how much is at stake in any future reorganizations at the new Kraft/Heinz. The current numbers are that roughly 40,000 folks in Pittsburgh are employed in industry categorized as Management of Companies and Enterprises. That in itself is just over 3% of all jobs in the MSA. Then the entirety of Heinz's footprint here works out to maybe 1% -2%, at the very most, of that.

But whether the merger of the two firms brings more jobs to Pittsburgh, or further eviscerates what was once here, only time will tell.  To quote the great Carly Simon, and tomorrow we might not be together.

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Pittsburgh's Seven Year Demographic Itch

So this is worth noting.   Some will see the wonkish news stories trying to decompile the latest dump of population estimates from the friendly gnomes at the Census Bureau.  The summary is that I was kind of expecting the net migration trend to dip negative a small bit in the latest year of data (July 2013 to July 2014,) but Pittsburgh just squeaked by for a 7th straight year of positive net migration. But we will put a * on that positive number. More later.

The news stories will mostly look at the overall population change, which I guess they have to, but the recurring story here is that the Pittsburgh region stands out as a place experiencing natural population decline (more deaths than births).  Since natural population decline is really a demographic legacy of changes literally decades ago, you need to think about it differently from what is happening today in the regional economy.  A big topic I've been talking about for a long time.

Here is total net migration for the Pittsburgh MSA since 2000. The historical trends before this were pretty much all negative every year (with one possible exception around 1991) going back pretty much to the end of WWII.  So the break in trend in mid-decade, with net migration turning positive for the region, was a big deal IMHO.




That the positive trend has extended for seven years is pretty remarkable.  For a region that experienced net migration losses on the order of 50K per year in the early 1980s, just being net even is an accomplishment, but still, the recent trend appears to be contracting.   It likely reflects that in early 2013 you saw the closest convergence of regional and national unemployment rates in the last 8 years. If that convergence had continued I would have really expected this net migration trend to turn negative.  But that trend did not converge more, so we will see how it all plays out next year.

What's the * in the positive net migration story, even if small.  I've graphed total net migration, which is the sum of net domestic migration and net international migration.  In this data, net international is almost always (there are rare exceptions) a positive number by definition.   Domestic migration is the number of people who move within the US each year.  Domestic migration has turned negative for the Pittsburgh MSA (-2,806 for the 2013-2014 period), again probably reflecting the past contraction of regional and national labor force trends.  So the only reason there was an, albeit small, positive net migration (+411) was due to the net international immigration number (+3,217 for 2013-2014). That number is still pretty small relative to most any other metro region in the country, but still responsible for offsetting most of the natural population decline and keeping the population stable. There is the headline.  (if you waited for it).

Addendum.. here is the by county super summary of population change over the most recent year of data:

1-Jul-13 1-Jul-14 Change
Allegheny 1,232,953 1,231,255 -1,698
Armstrong 68,110 67,785 -325
Beaver 170,060 169,392 -668
Butler 185,369 185,943 574
Fayette 134,799 134,086 -713
Washington 208,194 208,187 -7
Westmoreland 361,080 359,320 -1,760
Pittsburgh MSA 2,360,565 2,355,968 -4,597

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Monday, March 23, 2015

There (could be) an app for that - Pittsburgh Parking

Wonky news buzz over talk that the Pittsburgh Parking Authority (PPA) will pursue an app to pay for Parking. PG: App could be used to pay for Pittsburgh Parking

People forget, but it is something the PPA said would be in limited operation last year actually, following the model of...  Latrobe, PA. See the last paragraph in (Feb 2014): New App Lets You Pay for Parking on your Phone.  But hey, progress is progress.  How about the bigger question and imagine what might be possible if the Parking Authority actually made a live feed of some of its parking utilization data. I'll just point back to this post: Free our (parking) data. 

But this all could enable the real innovation in parking economics here...  resident discounts!!! or in the great duality of all things economic: non-resident surcharges.   Ponder that for a second and when it comes to pass remember where you heard it first.

Addendum...  what was the final story on the great missing parking meter story?  Remember: Audit can't trace missing parking meters.  What's a few tons of scrap steel anyway.  

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Monday, March 16, 2015

Who needs (Braddock)?

To use a particular vernacular, here is the bottom line up front: A law journal article just out will be of interest to most (of the remaining) readers here. Stanford law professor Michelle Anderson authored this just published in the Widener Law Review: WHO NEEDS LOCAL GOVERNMENT ANYWAY? DISSOLUTION IN PENNSYLVANIA'S DISTRESSED CITIES.

What is the foil for the article? The geography known to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as the borough of Braddock, PA. While you may not quite catch it in all the legal verbiage, it really is a provocative thesis all but arguing that Braddock should cease to exist.

Braddock Films
Never mentioned, but I couldn't help thinking about the recent Kevin Sousa meme when reading it and maybe not for the reasons you may think. Hard to see any mention of Braddock in the popular press these days without a de rigueur mention of Sousa and his latest project: Superior Motors.  The recent PG article (Kevin Sousa, a visionary chef with fiscal issues on his plate) has sparked a new look at the project. The blowback on the article includes commentary out there such as this blog post: Everything is (Not) Awesome or “Is This Good Enough For Pittsburgh?

IMHO, I think both angles, or virtually all angles I see debated on this, miss the far more important story. I take for granted that Sousa himself is a positive change agent, but what happens if the project is successful? Or even wildly successful? A wave of prosperity comes to Braddock and spills over into neighboring communities? Some believe that has already happened.  I really do get routine queries from the media or other interested parties from all over the country asking some question about the dramatic turnaround that has already happened in Braddock.I think local folks get the difference between the vision and reality, but folks from afar don't get that message. It is a premise that I've pointed out belies some stark statistics including some of the steepest vacancy and poverty rates across Pennsylvania that have yet to show any signs at all of improving to date. If you think a restaurant is the solution to the problem, you are probably underestimating the structural problems Braddock and nearby municipalities have to deal with. 


1994! - see Lucchino referenced below.
I really think that the obsession on how big or impactful the new restaurant project can be for Braddock has a side impact of distracting the powers that be from the harder questions about the future of the borough and environs.  The more talk of the restaurant, the less talk of what it will take to address harder problems.  The problem is that the restaurant is really just the latest iteration of a recurring story of how Braddock has turned the corner,. You can't recall so many previous versions, including the earlier restaurant project in Braddock, because they have all been for naught. The redevelopment of the Mon Valley has been the county's primary economic development focus for decades, with plenty of headlines to show for it along the way. As a result we have had decades of folks talking about how much positive change is taking place in Braddock. I once was yelled at by a long since deposed County Commissioner for merely questioning the premise.  

What are those harder questions being overlooked? Well, there we come back to the law article just out that looks at just how dysfunctional some local governments are in Pennsylvania. The very first sentence of the article: "Pennsylvania is home to an exceptionally high number of small, fiscally troubled local governments—each one a monument to the decline of American manufacturing and its middle class jobs."

I'll be the first to quibble with the economic history embedded in that.  Braddock's decline started long before the decline of the steel industry, but the cause is not as important as the reality of today. Braddock, by most metrics of distress, has only continued downward over the last decade. Why is that?


Let's talk beyond Braddock to desensitize this all. Braddock in a sense is not the worst off place for its residents. Children in Braddock actually get to attend a functioning school district in the form of Woodland Hills. That is a result of the General Braddock school district being one of the original districts that were combined to form Woodland Hills as the result of a Federal consent decree three decades ago. The children of the neighboring Duquesne School District have no such luxury and have seen their schools literally deconstructed, with students unwanted by any other school district in the county, only to forcibly assigned by state fiat into nearby school districts. If you think Duquesne is an anomaly then go read the recent research showing Pennsylvania having the most unequal school funding in the nation.

School Districts, and municipalities such as Duquesne, or Rankin, or Braddock, all are forced to exist despite having no fiscal capacity to maintain minimal public services. I remain perplexed that there is no greater hue and cry over what is an ongoing miasma in Duquesne. Hence again, the law article focused on the hyper sensitive topic of municipal disincorporation and the greater failings of the Act 47 process in Pennsylvania which may have a counterproductive goal of keeping low functioning governments extant. Maybe they shouldn't be strung along.

If you read the footnotes to the article, and law authors do like their footnotes, there is a reference (warning, pseudo vanity alert) to a report completed long ago by former County Controller Frank Lucchino. His report titled Reclaiming Hope - Voluntary Disincorporation in Allegheny Countybrought up the topic that is like political kryptonite in Pennsylvania. Just coming out with that report was an act of political courage since similar talk has brought political careers to an end before and since. The article actually concludes by pointing out that if they were looking for new legislation to address municipal distress  then "state legislators should go back to the drawing board—the one that Frank Lucchino drafted for them years ago." Easier to talk about menus.

The Luccino article, and other sundry ephemera on this whole topic of fragmentation in local government in Pennsylvania is on my web page on the topic (minimally updated in a decade at this point).  To end I'll just throw out this illustration I put together years ago showing just how much local government there is in Pennsylvania:


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