High and rising
Funny thing though. Every year there is this perpetual cycle when these annual census population estimates come out, at least there was. The data inevitably shows decline and the minor news cycle starts spontaneously as almost everyone wants to jump to a conclusion that it's yet another data point showing that all the young people are leaving. I am left repeating a somewhat lame mantra that says... no, for Pittsburgh the population decline is not all from migration and no, not it's not even true that all migration is made up of young people. We have these old people who sort of like Florida to retire to and all. I try to argue that when you add it up, it's not even worth a story or that it's not exactly as bad as it seems.. If I'm lucky I can get the discourse to move away from using the young people 'fleeing' verbiage. As often I fail at even that.
I was actually going to name this post something like a silver stake through Border Guard Bob's heart... but fewer and fewer people will get the reference which is a good thing. That or a bit too gruesome. But maybe we can at least move Beyond Border Guard Bob. Yes I may be talking to myself sort of, but Bob continues to manifest himself in a lot of subtle ways in the region's mentality.
This year, the numbers come out and nobody noticed at all. It was strange in my little world. When I got around to looking and seeing our factoid of the day that net domestic migration was positive. I couldn't figure out why it was not being noticed. So bad news = big news but good news goes into limbo. There is some post-cupcake Pittsburgh angst interpretation in all of it, but I need to sleep on that. That and a gentle reminder woke folks up in the end...
But there is a bigger story in all of that. Really. I'm serious.
First wonk speak. The numbers just out and the factoid of +1,144 net dometic migration (international immigration which is by construct almost entirely positive is added on top of that) reflect changes that took place between the income tax filings filed for the 2008 tax filing season and the 2009 tax filing season. So roughly people who changed addresses between the early spring of 2008 and had moved by the same period in 2009. So mostly the early part of the recession. Migration decisions typically happen well before actual migration, so you are really talking about decisions that happened before the recession began. The timing matters to understand the trend.
So now take into account two completely correlated graphs. One is the trend in how the local unemployment rate differs from the national unemployment rate. We are now at 40 consecutive months where the Pittsburgh rate has been below the national level. That is now the longest period you can say that for any period since at least 1970.... and I just don't have a consistent set of data over a longer historical period, but I doubt you could find a similar period since the end of WWII though for that I still need to dig some more. But the graph of that over just the last 40 years is this:
Couple that with something I pointed out a couple weeks.ago Historic recession all around, or as the AP now has appropriated the naming rights, the 'Great Recession'. (who named the 'Great Depression' anyway? At the very least it seems not to be the AP) The unemployment rate, and total unemployment levels for that matter, high and rising here and elsewhere. Yet the labor force in the Pittsburgh region reached an all time, and I do mean all-time, peak in January. Whether employed or unemployed, the labor force represents people here in the region. If anything, labor force participation drops during recessions, so if that is true here a rising labor force would require an even greater rise in population.
So if nothing else, a fairly easy prediction for the record.... but the positive migration making news this year will be a bigger positive number next year. I'll save some thoughts on the international immigration numbers released last week for later.