Saturday, October 03, 2009

population obsession

One loyal NS reader asked me if I really had to keep telling all the visiting media that Pittsburgh was experiencing natural population decline. I guess it came across as a depressing factoid. What I point out as being an important part of understanding local trends, not just the demographics, but also lots of employment trends are impacted becasue we are experiencing natural population decline... i.e. more deaths than births.  What I point out is that Pittsburgh is the only large metropolitan region where that is true and reflects for the most part the exodus of younger folks decades ago. The migration induced by the job destruction at the time was as we say very age-selective.   The folks who left in the early 80's and before were mostly younger workers who took with them their families and future families. The result as the population has aged out is a natural population decline currently. 

If you are still reading....  Richard Morrill digs into the natural decrease phenomenon in a detailed post at When Thanatos Beat Erps, Mapping Natural Population Decreases yesterday. Neat maps to look at as well since he is looking nation-wide.  He explains this all more and better if you want to get into it. 

So to be clear, I typically said lots of things to the journalists, and would rarely get to the natural population factoid until well into a conversation.  But it always jumps out at reporters because it just is atypical or at least something they don't hear otherwise. I've learned well enough that journalists are not interested in hearing yet another person say what 10 others have ("Pittsburgh has been transformed"... yadda, yadda)  and perk up when you teach them something even if its esoteric.

While Professor Morrill captures a lot of places where a similar trend is going on, a lot of those counties are rural areas.  I try to be precise in my words and will usually say the Pittsburgh is the only large metro region with natural population decline going on right now.  You will see from the map why I have to qualify that it stands out only among large metro areas.  Even if you eliminate the truly rural counties there are a few other places that jump out and even within Pennsylvania the demographics of Scranton/Wilkes Barre jump out at you as being equally extreme.  

But looking into the future.  It's not like the natural population decline started immediately during the 80's exodus.  Folks need to age out. In fact it would not be until the latter part of the 90's that natural population in the region would edge negative.  Our natural population decline peaked early in this decade and has been declining (declining decline that is again) since. When and if natural population edges positive keeps changing in our forecasts.  It might never get positive per se, but may not be as negative as it was a few years ago for a long time.  Whereas there will be a bunch of places elsewhere in the US that will more and more look like we did over the last decade or two as they age out.


Blogger Jim Russell said...

It might never get positive per se, but may not be as negative as it was a few years ago for a long time. Whereas there will be a bunch of places elsewhere in the US that will more and more look like we did over the last decade or two as they age out.

That's what stood out to me in Morrill's analysis. Not so much that Pittsburgh will trend younger as it is all these other places rapidly aging.

Saturday, October 03, 2009 6:21:00 PM  
Blogger Vannevar said...

Chris, may I ask (please)- what is Erps?
Thanks, Vannevar

Saturday, October 03, 2009 10:04:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

I honestly think he meant eros... would certainly be a pithy title then.

Saturday, October 03, 2009 10:39:00 PM  
Anonymous johnnyg said...

Thanks for the fuller piece. Seriously, though, we're never going to get back to natural population growth? We know that we have even in-migration/out-migration at best. So we are stuck in permanent population decline? Even after the bubble of the aged naturally matures? How can that be? We have like zero baby boomers compared to the rest of the country.
Also, S/W-B metro growth makes sense, given the huge run-up in real estate prices in the metro NYC region. Many people commute from NE PA to the NYC metro to be able to afford the house they want.
Finally, it wasn't so much that you mentioned the factoid, but all the dang reporters reported it as yet another example of how troubled we still are, rather than evidence of what once happened.

Sunday, October 04, 2009 1:41:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

Most of the western world is in the same predicament when it comes to natural population growth. Low fertility rates compared to the past are root of natural population decline when it happens at a national level. In fact US has one of the highest fertility rates in the west yet still is going to have this problem. Places like Japan, Italy and Russia are at the other extreme with unsustainably low rates of birth. They are going to have significant natural populaton decline for decades.

As for Pittsburgh. zero baby boomers isn't exactly true. What is important to not forget is that those who left took with them their families, their future families, and now we even are probably suffering from the loss of their next generation. There are some other things going on as well.. low immigration, where immigrant groups have higher fertility rates typically is a factor. Higher education groups have fewer children as well which may be a factor as the region shifts to one with relatively high educational attainment.

Sunday, October 04, 2009 6:11:00 PM  
Anonymous johnnyg said...

I knew about the demographic crisis in Japan, Russia, and Italy, true. And, higher education groups do have fewer children. I just didn't realize that we are in the same boat. I really thought you had told us that, at some point, the natural population loss would end and reverse itself. Now, you're saying that's not the case anymore? And, if we are doomed to a smaller and smaller future, what does that suggest for our shiny new "eds" economy? Do I need to start being the anti-Border Guard Bob and start encouraging my daughter to leave asap?

Monday, October 05, 2009 7:42:00 AM  

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