Saturday, March 31, 2012

Jobs Über Alles - Retro

Dateline New Castle, 1940.

Remind you of The City? There is a reason for that.


Friday, March 30, 2012

Lim 1/n, n->∞

So we have come to this.. US Airways eliminating 15 jobs here is now newsworthy. That says a lot. See today in PG: US Airways makes more Pittsburgh personnel cuts

I think I will just repost this from an previous post on the history of US Airways employment in Pittsburgh.   All the more important when you ponder any current employment stats.  In the data on non-farm jobs out today for February, it is an all time high for employment in a February in the region except for February 2001.. which was a period of exceptional construction in the region and before the major downsizing of airport jobs here.  If the airport jobs were put back in, along with the obligatory induced and indirect jobs that went along with them, and what would current employment counts look like I wonder. 

Anyway, below is from a January 12, 2011 post: I didn't know they had 90 jobs left to cut :


File today's news in the "sure bet" file. Big bet it was. The thing is... all those IRR NPV calculations on the cost-benefit of allthose subsidies? Just a tad off in their assumptions I bet. Folks have begun to forget the late 1990's when support of USAir(ways) and airport based economic development was the key economic strategy for the region and remained so for much of that decade. Maybe we should file it all under "industry targeting". My inner Libertarian might superficially point out a correlation between the escalation of local subsidies and the airline's local demise. The simpler truth may just be that the bigger they are, the harder they fall.

News references to USAirways employment in the Pittsburgh region

1981: "more than 4,500"
1987: "more than 7,000"
1989: "9,600"
1990: "11,500"
1991: 11,900
1992: "about 14,000" (I think that refers to the state)
1994: 12,000
1995: 11,382
1996: 11,287
1997: 11,739
1998: 12,000
2000: "11,700"
2001 "12,000 locally"
2002: "about 9,000"
2003: "close to 9,000"

2005: "more than 7,500"
2006: "2,847"
2007 "about 2,700"
2007: "just 2,000"
2008: "about 1,800"

2010: "about 2,020"

Hey, look... we're trending up. Let's extrapolate that. Better yet, let's put a quadratic on that.


Thursday, March 29, 2012

Old political websites never die.....

This is a true story and I have once or twice tried to find this original article.. but sometime in the still early 1990s I remember reading a major news story all about how this "world wide web" thing was just a fad. The prime evidence were some examples of web sites set up by a few large corporations... but had then had never updated them.  So outdated they were those web pages at that moment in time that clearly the web was waning.  If anyone can find any news article like that I'd love to have the reference.   

That all came to mind alond with some of this week's news and in a stream of consciousness kind of way got me wondering what virtual politicians might still be out there.  So in no intentional order:

Still up and running... no mention of a little sabatical the senator is on:

Not a campaign site, but something the twitterverse discovered on Monday,  for those who might be wondering what ever happened to former state rep Jeff Habay...  the answer apparently according to linked in is Brazilian real estate and movie voice-over acting.   YCMTSU.

Also not a campaign site, but still running

What may top them all... this was in fact once the official campaign web site.. it really was. Check it out now: 

There must be more. Any other examples folks can find?  and no archived pages...  things that the public might come across today wittingly or not.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Data, data, data

Actually sort of a meta data kind of post on the more contentious than you may realize topic of real estate data.. Just something I can't tell if it is specific to Cleveland, or possibly a bigger deal here??

From the Cleveland Plain-Dealer a few days ago:

Last month, Pittsburgh-based Howard Hanna Real Estate Services announced deals to send its data directly to Zillow and, which will no longer pull the company's listings from any other sources. The subtext: The firm, which handled more than 34,000 transactions last year, will remove its listings from other sites, though Hanna won't say exactly who else will have access to its data. 

Seems like it could be a bigger deal here than up in Cleveland?


Defining 'Pittsburgh'

Let's talk about what defines Pittsburgh.  Few regions so confuse the definition of 'place' as much as we do. Ask anyone who works for the City of Pittsburgh. From the folks in the mayor's office to city council to any worker who deals with the public; they have to deal with people in any of the innumerable number of suburbs who will be people calling all the time seeking, and seriously expecting, help with their municipalities' problems . I even once had a debate with a resident of Verona who thought Bob O'Connor was their mayor.  I think I lost the argument.

And that is just the issue of understanding the difference between the "City of" Pittsburgh and nearby municipalities.  The broader "Pittsburgh" is the Pittsburgh region, sometimes talked about in terms of a common defintion used as the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), which currently 7 counties in Southwestern Pennsylvania.  There are other definitions such as the  commonly referred to 10 county Southewestern Pennsylvania region (the MSA plus Greene, Indiana and Lawrence counties) which is used by both the Allegheny Conference and the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission.  Then there is a 19 county "Pittsburgh Economic Area" used by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.  The late John Craig focused the Pittsburgh Indicators project on a 22 county region stretching into WV and OH.  Looking further there are newer and more notional things such as the 32 county "Power of 32" region that extends far into Ohio and West Virginia and has a toehold into Maryland, or the amorphous "Cleveburgh" which clearly exists, yet doesn't in any official or quasi-official way. 

In 2003 a major revision of metropolitan area definitions resulted in Armstrong County being added to the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area.  It was also the revision that added the term "Micropolitan Statistical Area" to the lexicon of regional thought.  Two nearby micropolitan areas were defined.  One is the New Castle micropolitan statistical area comprised of Lawrence County and the other is the Indiana County micropolitan statistical area. To futher confuse the issue there was a new type of region called the Combined Statistical Area (CSA) created at the time and Lawrence County is joined with Pittsburgh to form the Pittsburgh - New Castle CSA while the Indiana County micropolitan area remains on its own.  Confused yet ? We're just beginning.

Why does it matter? 

In lots of ways it does not and folks will define Pittsburgh any way they choose. There is an argument that corporate site selection folks will not even consider an area if it s not part of a metropolitan statistical area.  How true that really is at the end of the day I am not sure anyone really knows.  The official metropolitan area defintions matter at the end of the day at least to the hospitals since it really will impact what medicare rates they get to charge if they are not included in the definition of any metro area.  Thus in the last change that impacted Pittsburgh the addition of Armstrong County was a big deal for the health care providers in Armstrong County for sure.

Over time the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area has changed.  Old timers will sometimes ask me the current definition of the Pittsburgh Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area (SMSA), which is actually much an oxymoron since SMSA is not a defintion that has been in use for decades.  Currently unused terms include Primary Metropoltian Statistical Areas (PMSA) and Consolidated Metropolitan Statistical Areas (CMSAs).  For a period of time there were two local PMSA's: Beaver County was its own PMSA and the Pittsburgh PMSA was 4 other counties.  The Pittsburgh-Beaver County Combined Metropolitan Statistical Area was the region most talked about.   Got all that?  If not, don't worry too much as those definitions at least are all now anachronisitc.

On a side note. It is remarkable that Butler County was not part of the official definition of the Pittsburgh metropolitan area definition until the 1990's.  There just were not enough people commuting between Butler county and nearby counties to justify including it in the official definition of the MSA. Think about that?  Now virtually all Butler County municipalities bordering Allegheny have a literal majority of their resident workers commuting into Allegheny County.

OK.. if you are still reading, the more interesting question is what will the next change be to any of these definitions?  What county will be added to the official definition of the Pittsburgh MSA next?

The guidelines on metropoltian area defintion has had a major change in the recent notice and the one a decade ago in that there is no longer any role for local opinion on what.  There is no 'lobbying' that matters any longer.  Local perceptions once actually did get factored in and local opinion of what area defined a metropolitan area could be included in the official definitions promulgated by OMB.  Today it all depends on data, specifically commuting data.  If enough residents in a county commute to jobs located in counties that make up a metropolitan or micropolitan area, then it is included in the definition of the area. 

The threshold for whether a county gets included in a metro area all comes down to a focused and unique metric called the employment interchange measure.  The employment interchange  measure for two regions is basically the proportion of resident workers in a smaller region who work at jobs in the larger region plus the proportion of resident workers in the larger region that work in the smaller. Say that 3 times fast.  If a smaller adjacent region has an employment interchange metric higher than 0.25 it gets inlcuded in the larger area.  I'll skip the numbers for Greene and Indiana counties which are not that close to being included in the Pittsburgh metropolitan statistical area yet, but Lawrence County is really worth checking.

So in 2000 I get this commuting data for Lawrence County into any fo the 7 counties of what is now the Pittsburgh MSA:

Census 2000
Residents of Lawrence County  Working in
Allegheny County 2,043
Armstrong County 12
Beaver County 2,717
Butler County 2,366
Fayette County 25
Washington County 53
Westmoreland County 103
Subtotal 7,319
Resident workers in Lawrence County 37,529

So 7,319/37,529=19.5%

The latest data available on county to county migration flows from the 2006-2008 American Survey gives me this:

ACS 2006-2008
Residents of Lawrence County Working in:
Allegheny County 2,415
Armstrong County -
Beaver County 2,665
Butler County 2,785
Fayette County 4
Washington County 115
Westmoreland County 75
Subtotal 8,059
Resident workers in Lawrence County 37,083

So 8,059/37,083=  21.3%

Note in both years the proportion of folks in the 7 counties commuting to work in Lawrence county is pretty negligible.. a fraction of a percent, so I have not included those numbers here even though they do matter in the full calculation of the employment interchange measure.

So that 2006-2008 data is not enough for Lawrence County's inclusion in the MSA.. but that data goes back a few years.   The next round of redefinitions of Metropolitan Statistical Areas will come in 2013 and based on more recent data including data from the 2010 Census.   So if the trend from 2000 to the 2006-2008 period were extrapolated a few years, Lawrence County would get closer to that .25 threshold, but would not quite make it yet.

But... I bet the recession has had impacts on employment and commuting trends. It may be that there has been an acceleration in employment concentrated in Allegheny County in just the last few years. So I still think it is possible for Lawrence to be added this upcoming cycle. If it does not happen, it will be awfully close. 

So we will have to wait to see if it becomes an 8-county Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area and with it a gey ographthat stretches closer toward that Cleveburgh future.  There could be 2nd order effects of  this with potential future impacts on the defintion of the Youngstown MSA. 

One last thing. A big change recently in the ephemera of metropolitan area defintions is the frequency at which metropolitan statistical areas will be redefined in the future.  Until now there were regular updates over the decade to metropolitan area definitions as new commuting data came out.  The new guidelines are that the changes to area definitions will only happen every decade.  So if Lawrence County just misses inclusion in the MSA by a very small amount this cycle... then even if commuting patterns continue to change the definition of the MSA will not be altered again until some time after 2020.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Pittsburgh's Etch a sketch moment

We are just coming up on the 30-year anniversary of what might have been Pittsburgh's Etch a sketch moment.  Three decades ago Pittsburgh was just about halfway through the 18 months that changed it forever.  In August 1981 the region's unemployment rate was 7.2%; a high, but not scary level.  Total unemployed in the region measured 86,600.   18 months later in January 1983 over 212 thousand would be unemployed and the unemployment rate was at least officially reported as 18.2%.

At the very worst of the Great Recession (AP style guide requires the use capitals for that), regional economic conditions would barely hit half those numbers. If anything those numbers understate the differences between the two periods.  The recent peaks in both the unemployment rate and total unemployed only reached those levels because there has been a turnaround in migration. There has been several years now of net population migration into the Pittsburgh region, and that clearly has an impact on labor force data. Without the new residents coming into the region, neither the regional unemployment rate nor count of unemployed would have been as high.  30 years ago we all know the opposite was going on here with a steady stream of unemployed workers departing the Pittsburgh regon.  The result was making those January 1983 peaks peak lower than they might otherwise have been. 

Don't get me wrong, 30 years ago there was still a lot of denial going on.  Lots of folks believing manufacturing was going to rebound and there was no reason to shift course. Some of that denial persists to this day, but at some point 30 years ago a plurality of the collective consciousness accepted the inevitable and decided to move on if only because there was no other choice. 


Monday, March 26, 2012

Bloomfield and the nexus of theology and community development

This is all a very hyperlocal and personal musing. The more global readership may want to filter it out. 

There are two stories in the PG today that have everything to do with one another, yet have no reference to each other at all.   On first glance, the first story may appear to only have a very local interest, but I can assure you that for some impacted it is the single biggest story all year. See: Several Local Catholic Schools to Merge.

That strikes home for me on more levels than you want to read on. For a long time I could find a spot on Liberty Avenue in Bloomfield and without moving look around and document much of my life. I was born at St. Francis Hospital, baptized in St. Joseph’s Church, went to grade school at Immaculate Conception. All were still there, just as many of the storefronts on Liberty Avenue were occupied by the same owners as were there 30, 40, in some cased 50 years earlier. Rare main streets across the nation could maintain such continuity across the 2nd half of the 20th century.

Then came a time when people would tell me Bloomfield was changing. I was like..sure, a bit, but Bloomfield was still Bloomfield was what I really thought. There were too many visual cues telling me things were much the same as always. Even a preponderance of the anecdotal could not overcome my own obstinate memory..and I ought to know better. Maybe I didn't want to think it any different?

Then there is this story about Garfield changing: Garfield's main drag is 'growing up'

Bloomfield and Garfield are apocryphal of Pittsburgh's inner divisions. By geography Bloomfield and Garfield are the same place. The distance between the main street of Bloomfield (Liberty Ave) and Garfield (Penn Ave) is at points measured in steps. Yet the two neighborhoods have maintained distinct identities as far back as matters. No hills, rivers, valleys or train tracks separate the two neighborhoods... just sheer geographic  fate fueled by the self-selection of generations.

So no mention in the latter article on Garfield of the parish consolidations which are central to both Bloomfield and Garfield. The schools being impacted once enrolled most all of the children in the neighborhoods is just the beginning of the linkage.

Yet. It all is connected. There used to be 3 Catholic parishes in the Bloomfield and Garfield. The Bloomfield Garfield Corporation was both created by St. Lawrence Pastor Father Leo Henry. That history is relevant to a lot of neighborhood infighting to this day. Why was the BGC as formed not the Garfield Corporation. The geography of the parish probably had a lot to do with it. Technically in Catholic canon law St. Lawrence was the territorial parish for both Bloomfield and Garfield. The other parishes in the neighborhood, St. Josephs and Immaculate Conception, were actually national (or personal) parishes which means they did not have geographic boundaries. Historically St. Josephs was the church for German immigrants, and Immaculate Conception for Italian immigrants. So even though those two parishes covered most residents of Bloomfield, it was according to the church St. Lawrence's territory.  But when the Bloomfield Garfield corporation was set up,it inherited a name based on the geography of the St. Lawrence Parish..which was technically Bloomfield and Garfield.

Despite their proximity Bloomfield and Garfield have evolved quite distinctly over several decades. The segregation we talk about is as stark as it gets in the dividing line between the two neighborhoods by race. Talk of change not withstanding, actual Garfield residents in 2010 were under 14% white..whileBloomfield is over 81%. The line between the two is about as sharp as such patterns get. Garfield proper has depopulated faster than most anywhere else in the city with one of the fastest declines of any city neighborhood between 2000 and 2010. So as the Garfield focused story today focuses on the main street of the neighborhood, it remains a very open question how much of any of that has pushed into the residential neighborhood.

I have to say though, but any story on the retail main street of Garfield has to mention the two most useful stores in the city. Kraynick’s and also the All Appliance Parts store. If you have not been to both, you really need to stop in.  I can't really point to a web site for either business.. but both are irreplacable in their own ways and I guarantee you many a Pittsburgher has been impacted more by either of them than a lot of other businesses you hear about. 

Amazing how all things come around in Pittsburgh. The local Catholic parish will again cover both Bloomfield and Garfield together.  One of the BGC’s first big battles was to try and save a neighborhood supermarket. Giant Eagle once had a supermarket on Penn Ave. Its closing was one of the things that the residents of Garfield fought hard to prevent, but like so many of the other smaller neighborhood level grocery stores it was a losing fight. Cause or effect is too much to get into here, but the closing of the Garfield Giant Eagle was in many ways a correlate of the decline of Garfield.  Yet..the news of late is that a supermarket may again move into the neighborhood. Bottom Dollar has an option on a property that was indeed the property the Giant Eagle once used.

So who knows what tomorrow will bring....


Sunday, March 25, 2012

A twinkle in the Port Authority's eye

So what is really odd when you see all the complaints about the North Shore Connector over the last decade is just how many of the same folks were all for it back when it was being planned.  Go dig into who was on the Port Authority's board when the important decisions were being made.  But it all started* here.. from the March 13, 1985 PG:

From which would beget the concrete vision of a spine line and eventually its vestige known as the North Shore Connector today. I do like the last line in it.  The route planning anticipated some new development around Three Rivers Stadium. Which still (still??) exists.

* Yes, I know that is far from the real beginning for the North Shore Connector as it would become known. For the start you probably have to go back to 1967, or you could really argue 1923 was the real beginning, but for the concrete start of planning for the NSC as is opening now.. 1985 was the starting point.  


Saturday, March 24, 2012

What's the 4-1-1?

Does 411 still work?


Friday, March 23, 2012

Isn't the Corten brand enough?

So I note the Trib is reporting:  U.S. Steel could move out of Downtown office tower.  I suspect it is pretty normal negotiating, but anything is possible.  I did have a younger relative refer to it as the UPMC building which I thought kind of allegorical.  Here is a trivia question:  When did the U.S. Steel Corporation first locate its headquarters in Pittsburgh? It is not when this cartoon was in the paper.

What's it mean for Downtown?  Depends.  PNC about to start a new skyscraper so you can't say there isn't investment going on.  Chatter is Chevron is waiving the carrot of building a HQ in the City if it gets rid of its pseudo ban on marcellus drilling within the city limits. I'm dubious they would want to be in the city no matter...  but it sure is ironic in so many ways if they don't even consider moving into the Gulf Building.  Hard to say if it would be correct to describe that potentially as moving 'back' into the Gulf Building.. as it were. 

Anyway...  I would have saved this graphic if I knew that story was on tap.


Drinking at home

I was a bit distracted last month, so I missed the latest inflation data for Pittsburgh covering the 2nd half of 2011. The short story is gasoline is up in itself and you see the energy transportation costs filtering through a lot of other things.   Other than gasoline, electricity costs over the year are +11 percent over the year. so even though "Utility (piped) gas service" is down 5.9% (the biggest drop in any category) overall household energy costs are up 7.5%.

Other than the natural gas costs coming down, the smallest price increase was in "Alcoholic Beverages" with an increase of 0.5 percent over the year.  So in real terms, big drop in alcohol prices.  What is up with that?  It all adds up to one thing: the cheapest thing to do is to not travel and just drink at home.   But why?  I dunno.  Maybe the cheaper natural gas is making it that much less expensive to boil the potato mash?

and when the subject of drinking and journalism comes up an obligatory mention of the region's only dedicated spirit beat reporter.  Just a coincidence, but Yinzpiration (sic) interviews the man: Interview #51: Bill Toland

Anyway, this is the overall inflation trend for the region: 


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Time to raise the homestead exemption?

Here is one of those issues I am perplexed has not even been raised yet.

So we all know by now there is a mass property reassessment going on in Allegheny County.  The news of late is that the reassessment itself is complete.  It is not really complete of course, but complete in that the new numbers are all calculated and distributed.  Still have appeals, tax rate resetting and so on and so forth. 

We all know there is lots of angst over the new numbers.  Much concern is for long time homeowners, particularly older homeowners, who may not be able to afford higher taxes if indeed they get hit with higher taxes.  Let's skip the debate over whether many will actually see reductions in the end. 

Here is the thing.  If there is really concern for lowr income homeowners and what jumps in their property value will be, there is a simple and legal way to help them comprehensively.

There is in Pennsylvaia a provision in the law called the Act 50 Homestead Exemption.  Allegheny County has enacted the provisions of Act 50 to give resident homeowners in the county an abatement on a part of their home value in order to lower their property tax.  Right now many if not most resident homeowners in the county make use of the act and claim a $15K reduction in their property value for taxation purposes.

So what do we know?  City property values have gone up by 50% or so in aggregate.  Countywide it is 25% and every other school district and municipality has some different number.  

Some straightforward math:  Now if the homestead exemption stays at a fixed $15K then in a sense it is a regressive tax change.  The 15K is going to be a smaller percentage of new valuations on average.  So if you want the impact of the homestead exemption just to stay the same, the value exempted has to at least be raised proportionally to the aggregate value increase.

Can you do that?  I don't see why not.  From what I read the limit to the amout of the homestead exemption is:
 "The exclusion is a flat-rate uniform dollar amount, and it cannot exceed 50 percent of the median value of all homestead property within the taxing jurisdiction as certified by the county assessment office."
  Well, by my quick division, the $15K is well below that threshold and if Allegheny County so wanted to increase the amount, it is at least not prevented by statute. You could probably double the homestead exemption and still be well below that threshold with the new assessed values. Raising the exemption would also have the impact of dealing with a lot of the inequity issues arising from the new assessment numbers. If indeed lower valued homes have been overassessed, an increase in the homestead exemption amount would redress that directly. Not raising it actually hurts those same homeowners even if the assessment was perfectly accurate.  I'll leave to others what political machinations have to happen to change the amount.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Henry George is Kaput

So if you read the latest on property assessments in the PG today : 10 percent appealing assessments, there was an interesting obituary for Henry George there between the lines. 
There was this quote reported direct from Judge Wettick:
Separate land values were "really confusing people" and many appeared to "make no sense," Judge Wettick told Mr. Graham.
Suffice it to say that if the judge at this point does not pay much heed to the land values, I am pretty sure the other 99.9% of the county thinks less about it.  No memory at all in the region that the city of Pittsburgh was once the largest implementation of Henry George's Land Tax concept in the United States.  There was once a time when some thought the   Henry George Club ran Pittsburgh. All just history.

Well, others still do care though. It turns out the folks at the Lincoln Insitute have a metro by metro index of how real estate values break down between land and structure value. At the risk of further confusing everyone, the methodologies are probably differnt enough that you should not compare directly to the values you are looking at in your Allegheny County assessment value.  Still worth looking at and their most recent data looks like this:

Too big a topic for the day to get into what Pittsburgh's ranking there means.  But even post bubble... lots of place in other regions.

Location, location location.  Reminds me a bit of the great Pittsburgh Hipster quote that Toland snagged out there


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Beyond the biscuit

I really am not joking, but there are folks in town who think all of this talk of a new cracker plant has something to do with Nabisco.

Speaking of bakeries, who says the cupcake innovation craze in Pittsburgh was a modernism?  Pittsburgh was way ahead of the curve.  Points for those who connect the dots there.  You know what is great about that patent?  It was referenced in another patent by Starbucks not too long ago.  Where is Mike? I may have to consider a career change to IP lawyer.

More cracker history... all this cracker talk just brings to mind:


Monday, March 19, 2012

Motor City Data Dunks

Just take a look at all the detailed data and mapping that is being done to support local city council redistricting in............ Detroit?  Via Data Driven Detroit.   

Now go and look at what similar public work is out there supporting redistricting of Pittsburgh City Council or Allegheny County Council..


Wait a minute....

So remember when the headlines about property assessments in Allegheny County were near apogee not very long ago?  I thought the clear message was that all the local real estate deals were being cancelled because the owners didn't like their assessment values. The end is nigh was the talking point all around.  Remember specifically when the headline was the assessments were so eggregious that the planned sale of the former former Alcoa Building was not going to go through?  Trib on Jan 2012: Regional Enterprise Tower deal canceled.  The clear message was in this quote:
That will hinder a sale of the building, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said this week. 
"You can't give it away because no one wants to buy it and face the higher assessment on it as well as the major improvements the building needs," he said.

Yet, miraculously the Trib over this last weekend: Building conversion to uproot agencies from Downtown.  That article says:
Novick said PMC will close its purchase of the Regional Enterprise Tower at 425 Sixth Ave. on Friday. His company, which specializes in restoring older commercial buildings for residential use, will convert the tower into a combination of half office space and half residential, he said."

So the deal was not canceled for long. Not even any mention that there was angst over this not much more than a month ago.  It was slated to happen early in the year, and it happened by mid-March.  Was the deal even delayed?  Any other non-cancellations of Downtown real estate deals out there? 

Anyway.  Given the headline last week that still has me in a bit of cognitive dissonance with all past reporting on the subject of assessments (see the  PG last week: "Higher assessment could mean lower bill for many"),  I thought the angst level over all the assessment news had subsided. 

But where did that headline come from?  I mean, what was January all about?? Nothing at all has changed in how the assessment will impact property owners from the first release of numbers in December??   Nothing has changed in the process and that headline could have been dropped in December for all we have learned since then. Has anything really changed since January?

In fact, legally speaking, the actual assessment process looks to be about as contentious as ever at least.   For example, Judge Wettick has a proposed ruling in the case that has some awfully curious language.  I will leave it to the leagle beagles whether this is normal verbiage in court orders, not that there is anything normal in the case, but parse the wording of the following proposed ruling he will be holding hearings on.  So this is not from January, this is recent:


Sunday, March 18, 2012

Ireland, Miracles, and Women

The Atlantic had a short look at the state of the Irish economy of late: Happy St. Patrick's Day, Ireland! Now About That Miserable Economy ...

Hard not to mention that Ireland was once pointed out as paragon for Pittsburgh to follow. See in the PG: We can import the Irish miracle.

Times change. 

But that is not why I mention it.  The Atlantic touches upon something more relevant to Pittsburgh today.  Ireland has had a dramatic transformation in its economy, recessionary times of late not withstanding.   I've had this discussion with folks from Ireland and it is not me making this statement.  But in Ireland it may be that the case of the Celtic Tiger is really the story of the Celtic Tigress.  Irish women, much like Pittsburgh women before them, lagged their peers in labor force participation and that fact alone may have kept the Irish economy depressed for so long.  So the Atlantic says " The biggest, and only sustainable, gain of the Celtic Tiger economy lay in coaxing women into the workforce, ".

For Pittsburgh, no matter what you read about transformation this, or transformation that, make no doubt that the most meaningful story of transformation in the Pittsburgh economy has been in the story of female labor force participation catching up with the nation's.  The impact of that is bigger than most everything else we talk about when it comes to economic change in Pittsburgh.

I will throw out there again the quote from 1947 that presages it all.   Here is the advice that was ignored until it was too late:
(Pittsburgh) will, however, slowly decline unless new industries employing women and those engaged in the production of consumer goods are attracted to the area.
Which is from a report written by a place called the Econometric Institute based in News York City and titled: "Long Range Outlook for the Pittsburgh Industrial Area", stamped February 12, 1947 and was for the Allegheny Conference and the Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce.

If that all strikes you as too distant a history to matter.   I will point out again the really remarkable factoid that only in the last couple of years has the number of women working the Pittsburgh region sustainably topped the number of men.   That ratio has come back just a bit and most for the region as a whole these days the employment numbers are about even for men as for women. Still a dramatic change from the past.  For Allegheny County however...  it is clearly now a majority female workforce.  Ponder that.  I have yet to see anyone really take notice, but follow the previous link for some hard data showing the convergence of male and female numbers in local employment data.

Actually, let's update that.  Here is a chart of employment in Allegheny County by Gender:


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Pittsburgh is doomed

h/t to Jim R. for catching this intense bit of dismalness on the future of Pittsburgh from the Washington Monthly article Terminal Sickness, subtitled (How a thirty-year-old policy of deregulation is slowly killing America’s airline system—and taking down Cincinnati, Memphis, and St. Louis with it.).  The money quote is below. 

Before you read I will pose my leading question up front in case you don't get to the end of this. Isn't the real lesson in all of this that the past promised economic impact of the airport on regional economic growth wasn't all it was cracked up to be. I mean, the future is not dismal now that flights are declining any more than the future was assured because of the flights USAirways once put in place. There was once a time not long ago that all economic development stories in the region were centered around rationalizing the massive investment in the airport's new terminal in the 1990's. It was all airport or bust and no talking point was left behind for more than a decade.

In fact, things are picking up for Pittsburgh ever more as the actual number of flights originating at the Pittsburgh international airport has plummeted... a trend that does not seem to be turning around at all. Realize that most of the USAirways flights we lost went away almost a decade ago. So that isn't to imply loss of flights is good in any causal way, but it sure disputes the argument literally everyone in town agreed worked the other way.. even though that argument was always based on minimal (or no) research backing it up anyway.

Anyway. You have to read this snippet (emphasis added):
Pittsburgh is another example of a major city whose culture and economy is increasingly determined not by its underlying fundamentals but by the dictates of an ever more concentrated, yet failing, airline industry. After it lost most of its steel industry in the 1970s, the city did everything the apostles of the so-called new economy said must be done to compete in the emerging global economy. When the city played host to the G-20 Summit in 2009, President Obama hailed Pittsburgh’s transformation “from a city of steel to a center for high-tech innovation—including green technology, education and training, and research and development.” That same year Forbes named Pittsburgh one of America’s best cities for job growth, while the Economist lauded its cosmopolitan cultural amenities, such as the topflight Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the Pittsburgh Opera.

But Pittsburgh’s renewal as a vibrant, creative, international city is now in doubt, due to the downscaling of its international airport, which now stands largely empty. Pittsburgh International was able to offer more than 600 daily nonstop flights after the city went deeply into debt to turn it into a showcase during the 1990s. But when US Airways merged with America West and concentrated its hub operations in Philadelphia and Charlotte, Pittsburgh service tumbled. US Airways’s daily flights have plunged from 542 to sixty-eight, causing the shuttering of half the gates at the airport as well as sections of two concourses.

I still say the solution here is to lease one of those unused concourses to the Mattress Factory. I bet they could retain some aspiring Christo with some ideas on how to use the space. See. problem solved. Take that creative class!

Wait.. wait..  Let's be fair.  A competition.  One concourse to the Mattess Factory.  One for the Warhol.  Still leaves one for the Carnegie  (let's be honest, there is only enough business out there to use one of the concourses as it is.  They spread it out some just because it would look bad otherwise.).


Friday, March 16, 2012

Allegheny County Irish

Obligatory map for my horde of ancestors from County Galway:


Up in Down

So..  since both the PG and the Trib agree that the biggest news from the latest labor market update is that 10K folks dropped out of the labor market.. things must be bad right? 

What nobody mentioned on the size of the labor force is that some of the 2011 labor force numbers were revised, and revised upward.  Ready for this?  The December 2011 seasonally adjusted labor force number for the Pittsburgh region was moved to 1.24 million.  Up from the 1.231 million originally reported.  So an increase of 9K.  That December # may be largest labor force ever recorded for the region.    I have not actually checked (because the data is not all online yet) all the historical revisions as yet to see if maybe there was some other peak.   But the December 1.24 million number is in the press release just out.  It is possible October 2011 was higher if it that number is revised.  October 2011 is now showing as 1,236,700, which is lower than the December.. but that may change.   Whether or not October changes, we are basically bouncing around the peak labor force ever and well within a reasonable range of sample error for the labor force data. 

But since it is last month's news technically nobody is going to look back. Yet if you really think about it, the January data is preliminary as it always is when this monthly data comes out.  The harder data here is the December data we have now moved on from talking about.  Should be the other way around.  Yes, if you really take in what I am saying.  The decrease in the labor force everyone is focusing on pretty much the same as the revision upwards in the December labor force numbers the January numbers are now being compared to. Put another way, the 10K people everyone is focused on as 'leaving' the labor force are showing up because we now measure 9K more people than were thought to be in the labor force the previous month.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Pennsylvania Bound

Via the Guardian's Data Blog is news of the latest Times Higher Education global ranking of top 100 universities. 

Pennsylvania has 4 in that list, which gives it more than most nations on the planet: The University of Pennsylvania (19), Carnegie Mellon University (37),  Penn State University (in the 50s), and Pitt (in the 60s). I have not parsed it all, but Pittsburgh is in rare company with just a few US cities having more than one named institution. 

But here is something to note. Of the 4 Pennsylvania institutions on that list, which ones are taking in folks locally?  This is what I get looking that up.


There is a headline here....

... somewhere.

I'll pre-pend this here just because it is relevant to all of us.  Channeling Paul Krugman, Foreign Policy of all publications has taken up the numbers on shale development and parses: Did Natural Gas Save the Pennsylvania Economy?

Also out yesterday with the BLS jobs revisions is the updated annual average jobs count for Pittsburgh in 2011.  Taking the delta in that time series you get this.  Anything at all stand out for the change over the most recent year? 

Hint: no 2nd best there at all.  I do wonder how far back you would have to go to get a bigger number.  The 80's were such boom times here and all.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Looking back - a better jobs year than we thought

The Bureau of Labor statistics just put out its routine revisions of employment data and it looks like 2011 was actually a better year for jobs in the Pittsburgh region that previously thought. Here is what I get for the scale of change which is positive every month by some nontrivial amounts. 

I am sure there is some bad news way to spin it.  :-(     By the way the two year job growth number Jan 2010 to January 2012 is +44 thousand...  which makes it the best other than anomalous 1999-2001 period. Before of since!  Anyway, the actual data revisions fwi goes like this:

Pgh Total Nonfarm Jobs in thousands, 2011
Previous Revised
Jan 1111.2 1116.1
Feb 1112.3 1118
Mar 1122.7 1128.3
Apr 1137.6 1142.7
May 1139.6 1152.5
Jun 1154.7 1160.6
Jul 1143.2 1149.9
Aug 1140.5 1147.5
Sep 1147.7 1155.9
oct 1162.6 1170.4
Nov 1163.5 1171.1
Dec 1164 1169.7


Asian Pittsburgh

The Census folks are releasing a report today on Asian-Americans nationally.  

For Pittsburgh, as low as recent international immigrant flows are for the region, the one trend that sticks out is for folks coming from Asia, which includes those from the subcontinent. 

I should update this graphic, but folks really are surprised to learn that it is now the case there are more immigrants residing in Pittsburgh (the region) who were born in Asia than anywhere else.  30 years ago 70% if immigrants in the region were born in Europe. Now the proportion is less than half that reflecting the aging of that population and low immigration rates since then.  Whereas the Asian born population here has gone from ~10% to nearly 50.   Note this chart is showing the breakdown of the foreign born population, not its size.  Overall the foreign born population in the region is much lower than it was decades ago . 


Birmingham of the North

So last night got be curious about the the 2006 race that nominally, or at least temporarily, ended slowed redirected Rick S.'s political career.   I really could not find a map anywhere else except for an old post here. So here you go.

2006 Pennsylvania Senate Results

What's it mean?  Maybe a lot? Maybe not much?  The political historian in me remembers that Nixon lost big in the 1962 race for California governor before running for president.  Probably a bit problematic from a PR standpoint to highlight that history however. 

Still..  what comes to mind is that while I generally find the iconic Carville quote annoying, it says a lot about a former Pennsylvania Senator winning Alabama.  

Anyway.   If Romney were to drop out, anyone notice that it would be 3 Pennsylvanian's at the center of the Republican primary?  As it is PA came in 1,2,4 last night..  except in HI and American Samoa of course.  Why is nobody reporting the returns from American Samoa?


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The 1% Pension Edition

I was wondering why there were hits yesterday on my Pittsburgh pension web page..  First off, there is news all around of some big public pensions in Pittsburgh.  Some group says there is someone in town getting $180k/year in public pension benefits.  Before you get all bent over that, I just don't believe it.  Someone misread a number, maybe confused a one-time payout, or possibly just added a zero.   The news today identifies the 180k recipient, who denies it is even close. .   Somehow someone took a $20K number and thought it was $180K.  There is a story in that in that someone presumed a much bigger number was even possible here. So what is actually conceivable elsewhere just isn't here.  Does it really say our public pensions are low on average?

I also take issue a bit if the news is right and it says the names of 37 employees with pensions were released.  37?   There are over 4,000 city of Pittsburgh pensioners alone.   I do not know offhand the number of county pensioners.  So we are talking about well less than the metaphorical 1% of pension payments.  There is not a data story out there that is not misrepresented it if you only focus on the sub-1% extremes in any circumstance. 

Yet even still the news says that 1% covers folks with pensions as lows as $37K/year.  A lot for some pensioners I know, but we are talking top of the top.  There are a few people who retire after very long careers at the top of the pay scale.  So $37K  is the very very top you really need to wonder what the average is.  This is one of those stories that is literally opposite as it comes across because that is the way the press release reads.  Though the obvious error in the 180K number was caught.  Deserves follow up on how the average city pensioner gets by on what they get from the city.  I bet a lot would be surprised.   

So it just isn't possible for any local pension to be anything like that.  The problem with city pensions is not that they are extragagent, but that they were underfunded by so much for so long.  The average payout is actually awfully low.  Police and fire pensioners generally do not get social security so if you see a payment of $2-3K a month, which is average for recent retirees, it is not all that much more than what they would have received from Social Security.  For the city, older retirees, and the pensions of non-uniformed employees average even less.

Want to argue the average numbers? Go start with my pension page and then let's talk.

But on the general topic of what public employees make. I am surprised this was not noticed much locally or in Pennsylvania.  The Sunshine Foundation folks in a recent publication they put out probably did a more objective job and  poked at government employee salaries across a number of states:  Which governments pay public employees the most?

Generally speaking Pennsylvania comes across a lot more frugal than the other states they look at.  But search for the one instance of "Pittsburgh" in the whole report.


Monday, March 12, 2012

Random South Side History

No reason. Just your random wiki page of the day.




Sunday, March 11, 2012


Still a remarkable image via NOAA:


Saturday, March 10, 2012

"Gothic Cathedrals of the 20th Century"

No reason, but something I never came across before and some amazing pictures of former Soviet blast furnaces.

The current post on that site is about subway car production in Russia, which also has some curious similarities to Pittsburgh today. 


Friday, March 09, 2012

City Living

So an overly curious mind has me wondering what the state of the Downtown condo market is of late. Just thinking because I first saw this note of a refinancing of Piatt Place, aka the former Lazarus, aka once the center of all dire talk on the future of Downtown. News said it was able to get a refinancing for $33 million and I just wanted to see how that compared to its new assessment value. That got a bit too complicated to do quickly since I can't tell what exactly was being refinanced. It is a condo unit so I presume the refinancing is for that part of the building Millcraft or related entities own.

But it got me poking back at this PG article from 3 years ago: Downtown condo sales are going well in some spots, not so well in others. Specifically it said at the time that "About a block away, at the former Lazarus-Macy's store, 34 of 60 luxury condos priced from $300,000 have been sold. Only six of those sales have come since August.".  There is a later quote that says ".... Downtown is the hottest market in Pittsburgh."  Pretty declarative statements.

Since the new assessment data is out I was curious what those units have all sold for. Since it implies 57% of the units were already sold 3 years ago, it must be mostly sold by now I thought. I dunno. In the assessment records I count 66 residential condo units with a property address of 301 Fifth Ave in Downtown Pittsburgh. Of those 66 units, 28 have listed as their owner "Piatt Place Downtown Pittsburgh Residential LP". At first blush it implies 28 units are unsold as yet. Spot checking those 28 units find no transaction history in the assessment records.

So I leave it as a question whether those units, or more generally how many Downtown condos built over the last decade, are sold as yet. A question that comes up on occassion is related to all that. For the units that are sold, are they all permanent residents here. There is a sense many are not the primary residences of the owners. Plenty of rich diasporans out there who might want a stake in the hometown is a theory. Nothing wrong with that all, but it does get to the question of what the impact is on population. I presume some unsold condo's could be rented out though I am not privy to what the condo bylaws allow.  No doubt there are new people living Downtown over the last decade, I am just wondering how many and whether the fairly significant investment in the new Downtown condo-collective has sparked a sustaining (i.e. non-subsidized) private sector market there yet.

So just some questions... or stories to follow up on.


Thursday, March 08, 2012

and again, what does the assessment mean to me?

So folks in the north and west of Allegheny County getting their new assessment values in the mail.  Like most everyone else in the county there is likely a lot of confusion by what the letter is telling them since it says so little.  All it has are new and old assessment values and likely some verbiage that this is all not their fault, that the whole assessment is 'court ordered'. 

Per the Allentown Morning Call, here is what Lehigh County in NE Pennsylvania is sending out right now... and remember, Lehigh County started their assessment process years after Allegheny County started... so it isn't the case Allegheny County has not had time to do something similar.  Anyway, per the MC:

The assessment letter should tell you that your taxes are projected to increase or decrease. For estimates based on current tax rates, you should go to and enter the control ID listed in the upper right corner of the letter. You can also call the assessment office and provide your control ID. While they won't tell you over the phone, they will mail a tax estimate to you.

and so.. if you want Allegheny county do do the same for you, maybe you want to contact your county council representative. It would be a fairly simple thing for the county to do here.  No reason they still can't do it. 

For the City of Pittsburgh my colleagues made the map below showing the valuation changes per parcel for the city of Pittsburgh. You can get a high resolution version of that via this post or access an interactive map to zoom in ever further via this post.  Note the map is not showing tax changes, but just the changes in property values.  No adjustment is made for the millage changes which will be mandatory.


Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Daily Ranking - Zip-innovation

h/t to reader MH who noted that apparently the folks at Zipcars think Pittsburgh is ranked #2 on some metric of innovation.  See slide #9 of this presentation about their Future Metropolis National Survey Results. 

OK then.  


Pittsburgh Past

h/t to Mike Madison for catching this via Palo Alto online (there is a circuitous path for news).

A story and remarkable video inverview (below) on Pitt's first black Quarterback Henry "Model T" Ford.


Assessment angst around?

So am I misperceiving things, or is angst over reassessments pretty quiet?  A decade ago the surge against assessments was virtually nonstop for over a year.

Anyway. In the news today is a note that a Downtown office building, Penn Avenue Place. sold for $54 million.   It's current assessed value: $35.9 million.   It's 2012 assessed value: $50.9 million.

Just saying is all. 

Actually what is kind of remarkable is that the news item, albeit a short real estate note, does not mention even in passing that the property is that which was once Horne's Department Store.   Memories.

apologies: Sam caught this days ago, and of course connected the dots with Hornes.


Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Is 'inconclusive' on the ballot?

Few realize that really on the ballot tonight is Pennsylvania.  The outcome of the races tonight will collectively be a big factor in determining if the Pennsylvania primary is of import next month.  So I guess the nonpartisan rooting is for 'inconclusive' if for no other reason it will bring a lot more advertising spending into the state and its major media markets.  So it's an economic development argument. We could be talking serious money.

But a question that has come up in conversation for me has been whether there is some party switching ahead of the PA primary.  The idea is that some D's are going to switch to R in order to vote for the candidate they think will be weakest in the fall. Would be a rational strategic logic, if more than a bit disingenuous.  Can we tell from any data whether it is happening?

First off. Let's look at the voter registration trends for Pennsylvania for the two major parties. From the state's voter registration page  I get this time series of voters registered as Democrats or Republicans since 1998:

So that does not say much to answer this question on party switchers. There is data the state has on that same page detailing party to party switches over time.  The question is whether something is different of late heading into the voter registration deadline later this month. First is what those voter registration stats look like over the last few years: 

Since 12/29/2008
Democrats switching to Republicans= 91,160
Republicans switching to Democrats = 56,233

Which gives me a ratio of 1.62 D's switching to R for every R switching to D.

If that ratio seems inconsistent with the time series above, realize this is just looking at party switchers which is a relatively small flow compared to new registrants. Among voters registering for the first time D's outnumber R's.  Now lets look at what the recent stats look like:

For the week 2/27 to 3/5:
Democrats switching to Republicans= 1,227
Republicans switchin to Democrats = 332

Which gives me a ratio of 3.67.

So for whatever reason there are indeed a lot more switchers of Democrats to Republicans of late than is typical of the rate over the last few years.  Whether that is for the reason hypothesized... that folks are looking to vote for the candidate they fear the least I don't know.  It's possible some folks just like to be able to vote and the D primary is uncontested.  Or of course there is a big resurgence in the Republican party that is very strong very recently. 


Got Milk?

Research out of PSU: Marcellus Shale Activity Affecting County-level Dairy Production

Full report online here.

In economics we call that 'displacement'. 

Maybe it is all genetics?  Apparently some call it efficiency.