Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Detroit or Pittsburgh?

CNN has a story looking at the situation in Detroit where unemployment is up to 17%. It really is bad and does not look to be stabilizing anytime soon.

Even before the bottom really fell out from under Detroit there was a pretty good news story in the Detroit Free Press contrasting our situation with theirs: Different City, Similar Story. I have mentioned in the past some speculation on my part.. but I suspect that that article was a seed that lead to at least some of the positive PR the region had received in the last year. It's also interesting to realize that article was from early 2008 when things were nowhere near as bad as they are now for Detroit. How different are the two regions? At the county level I have my new google powered Rust Belt Watch. As of when I type the June number has not been updated as yet. The raw unemployment number for Wayne county in June is coming in at 18.5%.


Blogger Bram Reichbaum said...

With all due appreciation, I'm not sure if the constant benchmarking against Detroit is beneficial. How is PGH doing in comparison to the very best (relatively old-school) cities?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009 7:59:00 PM  
Blogger n'at said...

Why not:

Lake County, IN - Jackson 5/USX
Charleston County, SC - shipyards
Hennepin County, MN - iron ore, after the second go of it
or, anyone of the four counties within Kansas City, MO metro area?

We're all making attempts to diversify, aren't we?

yes, Detroit is a great baseline for the post-WWII rise and fall, but it's a real drag to talk about. Cant we start comparing ourselves to other cities with baggage that are having a go of it?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009 9:04:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

ok.. ok.. but realize there is a large part of the world out there that still thinks we are still in the same boat as Detroit. and when the local news highlights how some metrics are the 'worst in 23 years' this is all a blunt way to point out that has to be put into perspective.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009 9:16:00 PM  
Blogger n'at said...

"...there is a large part of the world out there that still thinks we are still in the same boat as Detroit."

From my perspective, this is exactly why we shouldn't included Detroit in comparison studies.

I see where you're coming from, but in order to change our world view we have to evaluate other cities with similar case histories that have had some success.

Consistently comparing ourselves to Detroit is like using the Mendoza Line as a metric for determining if you had a good season, or not.

Thursday, July 30, 2009 7:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree. How does Pittsburgh compare to other cities in upper Appalachia and Upstate New York - cities like Charleston and Morgantown WV, or Ithaca and Syracuse NY? These are cities that have had similar stories of decline in traditional industries and population, growth in regional public and medical services, and in many cases growth in educational resources beyond the region.

Thursday, July 30, 2009 9:03:00 AM  
Anonymous MH said...

Speaking of comparisons with Detroit, is arson on a upswing here or is it just getting more coverage? Is it kids, serial arsonists, or neighbors trying to get rid of the crime-magnet next door?

Thursday, July 30, 2009 10:02:00 AM  
Blogger Vannevar said...

Chris, from an economist's perspective, at what point (in terms of unemployment rate) does the alternative/criminal economy supplant the traditional? Is there any research on a tipping point? Thanks, V.

Thursday, July 30, 2009 10:34:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

really... you want to compare Pittsburgh to Morgantown and Ithaca... two metros of barely 100k whose economies are dominated by a single sector (universities)?

Sure... there's something interesting to see how PGH fares compared to its small "satellite cities" in Northern Appalachia... but the most useful comparisons are with other major metros across the country.

Thursday, July 30, 2009 10:37:00 AM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

V: certainly is stuff out there on the informal economy and crime, but I don't know if anyone can really quantify it to that degree at a neighborhood level, but I have not looked at it. I suspect the answer you seek may be something the sociologists may have a better take on than I. I really am not sure what the research says on that. As a generally rule I am not a big fan of tipping points, but that's another topic. Do tipping points mean there are points of no return. Was Pittsburgh past it's tipping point? Is Detroit? Is Braddock? In all cases we hope not, but in all cases I don't think there is one point that defines the future.

How about this... no rust belt comparison here. Again how about Pgh v. Charlotte again using google's county data.

Thursday, July 30, 2009 11:17:00 AM  
Blogger Jim Russell said...

How about what PittsburghToday is reporting?

The unemployment rate, though a new high for the Pittsburgh region for the year is lower than the unemployment rate in all benchmark regions.

Thursday, July 30, 2009 7:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

“Who to benchmark” can be a critical question to answer. When the Mahrabian report came out in the early nineties, Charlotte was one of the regions benchmarked. It made sense in many ways – the areas were of similar size, and both regions boasted headquarter industries of steel and banking. The embarrassing thing at the time was that Charlotte did not consider Pittsburgh a competing region, and I’d be curious if that attitude has changed, even with some of the wind being taken from Charlotte’s sails.

Ideally you’d want to look at regions that are similar in many ways, but that differ in critical actions or institutions that are under the control of regional leadership. It’s interesting to look at regional economic performance in conjunction with, say, city government or regional infrastructure investments. Some may also want to look at the relative competitive performance of big industrial players, like U.S. Steel vs. Nucorp, or Bank of American vs. PNC.

But are other issues at play that should dictate comparison? The first chart compared Pittsburgh with other Great Lake cities, and Pittsburgh compares favorably. But has Pittsburgh’s growth trajectory really tracked well with Great Lakes cities, or with those on the East Coast? If you look at a map of population change over the past 40 years, three areas stand out with population loss: the Great Plains, the Delta, and Upper Appalachia / rural New England.

Not long ago I saw an article about how well Morgantown was surviving the recession. They attributed their success to many of the same factors touted in Pittsburgh – a diversified economy, the strength of eds and meds, the lack of a housing bubble. West Virginia as a whole was boasting (before the recession) of its best economic year ever. So it would be interesting to test if many of the same traits that limited growth in the nineties boom also proved relatively beneficial when the growth bubble burst.

I realize that many feel that size matters most here. Or that it would be good to compare Pittsburgh with regions that others may admire. But I’m wondering if we can also get some insights by understand how the tides really do flow.

Friday, July 31, 2009 8:24:00 AM  

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