Sunday, May 06, 2007

neverending story

people have been asking me if I have any comment on Bill Steigerwald's column in Reason Magazine online again musing casuistically on the population decline story in Pittsburgh.

I really am not going to repeat myself yet again. I'm as tired of writing it as most must be of reading it. but Bill's piece raises an entirely different Pittsburghism: confusing the city with the county and the region. The only news that came out recently was population data for the Pittsburgh region.. in particular the 7 county Pittsburgh MSA. The Places-Rated story was also a ranking based mostly on regional data, although I do admit the occasional verbiage of saying we are the most livable city would confuse the issue.. What I notice a lot of people doing, and Bill does explicitly is take the foil of the population news blurb pertaining to the region and jump right into talking about the City of Pittsburgh. It's a huge and tenuous leap.

I can't say he is close to being alone. It's hard to explain how most people who read the news about the region's population loss would talk to me as if it was a story of the city's population loss. Don't get me wrong, I am sure the city's population is declining and we should all hold our hats because the city population data will actually be released by the census next month. This whole news cycle is bound to repeat itself, hopefully with a little less hyperbole, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

There are some common threads for sure, but the city is a small part of the county which itself is at most half of the region, depending on the definition of the region. There are some very different things going on for each and to just skip between talking about one level of geography and facts pertaining to the other is confounding at best.

and for those who really want to talk about population loss within the city proper over the last 50 years, I am always curious that they just skip over the corollary that jobs in the city of Pittsburgh have remarkably remained the same, or even gone up some, at the same time. Not many cities similar to Pittsburgh can say that. Maybe that deserves repeating: there are at least as many, possibly more, jobs located within the city of Pittsburgh today than there were 50 years ago. Any fair discussion of trends in the city has to include that along with the population data...... Unless you are trying to spin a particular point that is. Remember that when the population numbers for the city come out next month.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unfortunately I think this guy is right and that's what makes me so sad. I just got back from DC this weekend and continue to be amazed at how that region has changed in the 15 years that I've been gone from there. Granted, it's a totally different set of factors that propelled DC's ascendance but it still hurts to see how far Pittsburgh has fallen behind.

I wouldn't feel so negative if I saw ANY reason for optimism here, but I don't. State, region, and city government is moronic and incompetent, the population continues to vote for the same failed policies, the demographics are dreadful, and the loyal opposition doesn't even offer up any candidates because they apparently don't believe they have a snow ball's chance in hell of winning.

For every Westinghouse there's an offsetting Sony so the net seems to always be zero here. My wife is forcing me to stay here because this is her home, but if I had my way, I'd be headed back to Texas in a heartbeat

Monday, May 07, 2007 9:38:00 AM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

well I sure was not clear. I guess the question is what it is you agree with him about. Do you think there is something wrong with the Pittsburgh the Region or something specifically wrong with the city itself and city school district which are the entities Bill references specifically as best I can tell. My point is I can't tell what he is aiming his critique at because he skips between geographies.

and I am sure you have your reasons for comparing DC to Pittsburgh as you do.. but overall, people are leaving the DC region about as fast as they are leaving Pittsburgh. See the picture. Voting with their feet as they say:

Monday, May 07, 2007 10:11:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The region's population is probably okay at best; but the City has a large problem b/c of tax policy. The development in the perimeter counties - Butler, Washington - is the giant sucking sound. The lower taxes in those counties is just shifting resources. Long term, this is extremely bad. More congestion, more $ for highways, a hollowed-out urban core, more $ for new schools, water, sewage, etc, less people in Pittsburgh/Allegheny Co. to pay for maintenance on old infrastructure... you get the idea. There needs to be a significant realigment of regional tax policy. Until people in the suburbs realize (and pay up) that they have a stake in a healthy Pittsburgh, the same trends will continue until the system collapses.

Monday, May 07, 2007 4:16:00 PM  
Blogger EdHeath said...

So this is still a story about gross versus net migration, right? I mean, we have 60,000 fewer residents, but I guess a fair died before they could leave. How does this factor into our lower unemployment numbers you mentioned a few posts ago (admittedly a short term phenomenon)? We do have 60,000 fewer people, regardless of how they left. Do we sell Pittsburgh as lots of great empty houses and infrastructure?

Monday, May 07, 2007 5:10:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

ahhhhh.. is this statment talking about the city or the county??? "City has has a large problem b/c of tax policy. The development in the perimeter counties - Butler, Washington - is the giant sucking sound. ".

Presuming it is about the city: I tend to agree which I went into here:

For Ed.. the numbers that came out last week. 60K fewer residents comes from 32K migration, 21K natural decline (births minus deaths). the rest is a technical adjustment but I can explain if you want. Of the 32K migration I would ballpark less than a quarter of that (say 7-8K) are from people in their 20's.. So when you add it all up very little of the population change has anything to do with 'young people' fleeing. I could parse that even more by talking about the employment and migration impact of the natural population decline...

I actually do not think there is a clear link you want to tie between the population trends over last 6 years and the very recent apparent slide in unemployment rates. Lots of stuff going on in that.. and even more misconceptions, but I will leave that for another day.

Monday, May 07, 2007 5:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

More surprising than just plain folks failing to make the distinction between city and region is an allegedly seasoned local journalist falling into the trap, whether deliberately or by accident. Of course, Bill's local employer regularly bashes the city and celebrates the suburbs and "region" as some kind of heaven on earth, which we don't need statistics to tell us it is not.

Monday, May 07, 2007 11:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The city actually gained young people (between the ages of 20 and 34) between 2003 and 2005 (I think those were the years cited). The county as a whole showed losses in that age group, but the city proper gained. I think this blog is where I first read that.

So young people are definitely not "fleeing" as many people think.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007 11:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder if part of the problem is that in order to get past nagging misperceptions and civic propaganda we need to develop new conceptions of past trends and future perceptions. I'm not claiming I have this right, but offer it as a start.

From what I've read of your work, Chris, it sounds like Pittsburgh's regional economy shrank in the eighties (regional GNP and/or job base dropped considerably), resulting in an out-migration of working adults. This outmigration right-sized the regional population to the economy (or demand for labor), normalizing the unemployment rate.

Since that time the regional economy has evolved, with regional GNP growing very slowly (less than national averages), but the number of jobs increasing, primarily by adding lower wage service jobs. Because of the number of women entering the labor force, these jobs were filled with little in-migration.

Many commentators have taken this past economic correction, combined it with recent snapshot indictors, and either leapt to projections (the region has lost economic relevance and will continue to shrink) or trends (the loss of population is due to an out-migration of youth) that aren't supported by the data.

A more accurate conception of the region would be one of economic stagnation with minor fluctuations in economic performance and relative unemployment influencing minor fluctuations in migration. Because of weak trending, economic expansions tend to draw back in the diaspora, or retain recent college grads, or are very industry specific, all of which tend to result in few changes in regional demographics. And because labor markets are so thin and economic mobility rates so low, it doesn't take much for the existing labor force to feel squeezed.

Pittsburghers have seen their kids move away and their neighborhoods be abandoned, and they are expecting more in the future. This is less likely to occur now, not because the economy has changed dramatically, but because there are fewer indigenous kids to leave.

Not exactly newsworthy - stagnation, little change, many do OK except if there is a problem, the worst is over - unless you consider how much is being spent on economic development.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007 12:02:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

the city's apparent growth in 20-34.. if it holds true that is, is most likely higher numbers of students in town not families and households. an important distinction in lots of ways.

the 12:02 post is a mostly a pretty good synopsis of my thoughts. Not sure I call I could characterize the current state stagnation. I also am not sure about the last sentence. Does someone have a benchmark of how much is spent on economic development here vs. other regions? If not are you assuming it is more than is typical? I really would like to see that comparable data if you have it?

And I also wouldn't say the kids of Pittsburghers will not be leaving in the future. Many many people start a conversation like this with me: "but my nephew X graduated and found job Y in Z". Z not being here and thus they are upset about all the young people like X who are similarly fleeing. Lots of people leave upon graduating (high school, college, other training).. that is normal. The only thing that distinguishes us from elsewhere is the rate at which people are coming. Actually, if you consider that we are becoming a more eduacated region every year.. and young educated workers are the most mobile, I suspect you will see eer higher out-migration rates in the future. so again, banish Bob from your thinking.. it's not about blocking people from leaving as much as it is about attracting others to come.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007 12:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Probably the most frequently cited lament among those remaining in economically declining areas is that their sons and daughters have had to leave in search of work. It's internesting to hear that statistically the Pittsburgh area does not significantly differ from other areas, economically distressed or not, in this regard.

Pittsburgh hasn't had the in-migration that other economically growing areas have had. Your statistics showing an contraction in jobs in the 80's, followed by the absorption of an underutilized labor force in the subsuquent decades effectively limited in-migration. Some may have argued that a more aggressive immigration effort would have resulted in new ideas and energy, stimulating economic growth. But the counter argument, that increased immigration would have effectively lead to a churning of the labor force, with little or no differences in economic activity or populuation growth, also have merit. It also raises the question, if the growth of the economy was dependent upon a significant portion of the local population moving out, to whom are local economic development efforts supposed to benefit?

Border Guard Bob was lousy policy on a number of levels. But I wouldn't consider it solely a rentention strategy. A major focus of recruitment strategies were the young and educated. It was reasoned that those who had gone to school here required less of a case to locate here, so recruiting among short-term students, who hadn't really "relocated" would be low-hanging fruit. Of course an offer of an interesting job with a competitive salary would have been a more effective recruiting tool, but that's another story.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007 5:11:00 PM  

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