Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Beyond the Burgh - Peak Pennsylvania Labor Force as well

I tend to forget the state stuff, but I should have noticed this. Pennsylvania hit a new all-time labor force peak with the September data that came out a couple weeks ago. 

Link: Data and chart from BLS.

Specifically the PA labor force is showing over 6.5 million for the first time ever.  Topping a peak of 6.482 million hit in November of 2008.    

Must not mean anything since nobody notices such things.   Yet this really matters in ways you may not realize.  It turns out that a big chunk of the official budget projections calculated by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania are crucially dependent on what is projected to happen with labor force participation rates (see last slide).  Seriously.. it works out that lower LFP = bad for state revenue projections, higher LFP  = higher revenue projections. 

It's funny anticipating how much angst there will be debating the state budget, but virtually no notice of the numbers that will actually shape that debate up front. The way it works in Pennsylvania is that it all starts with the revenue projections.   One could argue that it ends there as well. 



..or again, post-Soylent Pittsburgh. The chart of 1,000 words for Pittsburgh.  Just saying.

Same data interactively. If you want the factoid of note.  Pittsburgh MSA labor force up ~40K over last 2 years.(note I had said 50K earlier, but the change in methodology between CWIA and BLS has altered some past data which I need to account for)  For longer musings on what it all means, and comparisions to the past see this previous post.

There are some deeper thoughts if you stare at the interactive chart where you can poke at data by individual month.  The region hit an all time labor force peak in March of 1981 which was a period between two big recessions nationally.  In fact the Pittsburgh region hit some all time employment peaks in 1979.  So there must be some inverse to the saying that it is always darkest before the dawn.  Still, the point is recent stats show steepest labor force growth in recent history and if you take out some demographic driven (baby boom entering workforce) growth in previous decades we are into unusual times for Pittsburgh.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Sic Semper Leyland

No reason other than with the end of the baseball season, and the contract extension of Jim Leyland in the news, this seems a bit more poetic than normal. Can I nominate this to the Yinzer Creative Hall of Fame?


Mexican War Streets Redux

Just catching up and noticing this story in PG today: Mexican War Streets may expand boundaries

Which gives me an excuse to repost again some great old images from what was once envisioned for the Mexican War Streets neighborhood. Again, these are some images from the North Side Study of 1954. The question that asks itself is...  if these were built, when would they have been torn down?

Again, click on images for higher res versions:


Public Service Labor Force Stats for Pennsylvania MSAs

So just as a public service announcement to fill in for the state data gnomes. They would have released unemployment rates for metro areas (and other areas) within the state today.  That release is delayed it says due to weather their web site currently says.

Here is what their release will eventually say for the metro areas within Pennsylvania. We will have to wait for the state gnomes to produce similar data for the other sub-state areas such as micropolitan areas, counties and selected municipalities. Click on the image for something more readable. I've put the border around data that is new.

Of course, there will be no reporting on any of that until the state sends out the press releases that say same. Can't be any news without a press release of course.  But you can look this all up right now. This is the same data the state announced it was using as of last month if you remember the issue with inconsistency between state and federal time series for seasonally adjusted Pittsburgh data before.


Rust Belt Redux

So BLS is reporting that the Pittsburgh regions seasonally adjusted unemployment rate ticked up to 7.4% in September, from 7.3% in August.  It is a curious artifact of the new seasonal adjustment in that the seasonally unadjusted rate for the region was 6.7% in September of 2011, AND September of 2012.

I thought to be fair I should update my rust belt divergence chart of unemployment rates in Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Detroit. See below. I will add in Charlotte gratuitously.  Yes, to give credit where due, Cleveland has been coming in under our unemployment rate the last few months.  Go Cleveburgh!

It is not quite a strict comparison of course.  Pittsburgh looks to again be setting a new record in the size of the regional labor force. 

But here is the graph.  Lots of convergence.  What I find surprising is that for 5 months earlier in the year Charlotte's unemployment rate was higher than Detroit's.  Just a factoid to chomp on.


Monday, October 29, 2012

All eyes on Pennsylvania...

...  for all sorts of reasons.  Just fyi, but 538 has gotten around to parsing the stats on the political landscape in Pennsylvania. Can we add to that?

So last week I had a post on the history of new registrations in Pennsylvania by party.  It seemed pretty clear that for at least new registrations Democratic Party applications were much higher than Republican Party appplications. I didnt realize that the same day the Trib has a story looking at some slightly different statewide data and came to a very different conclusion. See: More Dems left party than GOP, state election data show

Data.... data.. and more data.  What does it all mean? So confusing.

This actually is interesting.  So the Trib story looked at voter registration party switchers (D to R and R to D) cumululatively over the last 4 years since December 2008. I think the data they compiled (from the Pennsylvania Secretary of State online here) is this:

So since 2008 there has been a registration edge for R's becoming D's, but in the last week it is working the other way.

So what I wonder is... is the comparison of registration from just 4 years earlier to now a good way to judge the trend?   Anyone remember the Limbaugh effort to get Republicans to register as Democrats for the Pennsylvania Primary in 2008.  From 4 years ago and the CNN version, though there were tons of other coverage: Rush Limbaugh urges vote for Obama.   The theory there was that El Rushbo wanted Obama to win because he would be the weaker candidate in the fall against McCain.   Whatever the reason, he clearly was pushing for Republicans to switch registration for Pennsylvania's closed primary to Democratic.   The only question was how many actually took up the Limbaugh directive.

So going back to 538 today. The talk about registration a bit, but basically link to the general PA Secretary of State page which is only so useful in itself.  Below is my compilation of the historical data.

It really is hard, if not impossible to judge Rush's impact in itself from the aggregate data. But there was a big surge in Democratic party registrations 4 years go. Over 500K new Democratic party registrations in 2008 compared toa loss of over 2K Republican party registrations. Over 60 percent of those new D registrations came before the primary, but it is impossible to know from the aggregate data if that was because there was a very contested primary some recall, or those who took Rush's direction and registered as a D to influence the result for contrary reasons.  No matter what, one thing is true that there was not a contested Democratic party primary 4 years later. You need to factor that in when thinking about the trend over 4 years.

Hey.. I wonder if someone could poke at the individual voter PA Secretary of State data to come up with an estimate of how many Republicans switched from R to D leading into the 2008 primary and then switched back to R over the next year? Maybe someone has done that already?

Anyway.. the history of voter reigstration in Pennsylvania. Interpret as you will:


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Double up all lines

I will not ascribe any Biblical meaning to it.. but look real close at the prospective track of Hurricane Sandy.  Let's assume that the real track is not a series of perfectly straight line segments since we know there are no straight lines in nature. The curve my mind interpolates places the storm literally on top of the state capital in Harrisburg right around 5pm on Tuesday. Still projected to be a full tropical storm at that time as well.  Somebody better double up the mooring lines on that inflatable pig.

Does this delay me getting Pittsburgh's labor force stats this week?

BTW, I've added some links on the right there for interactive data which for the moment just has labor force stats going back to 1970. 


Saturday, October 27, 2012



Friday, October 26, 2012

Daily Digit: 0.32% 0.19%

So maybe I need to get into a daily digit type of routine.  Of late there is a round of news around the state how municipalities are going to use their shale gas impact fee windfall.  Here is the Inky's version: PA towns savor drilling impact-fee checks.

How much of a windfall is it?  According to the news, a total of $204 million is being distributed to local governments across the commonwealth.  A big number yes?  

For perspective the revenue for local governments alone across Pennsylvania amounted to $63 billion in 2010 alone. So the ratio of the new windfall to that revenue base gives me........

update:  I overestimated.   So only 60% of the 204 million goes to local governments.  So it is $122 million being distributed to local governments.  The ratio works out to be: 0.19%.

If you really want to play with numbers, that $ amount is equivalent to the fines from just 10 red light cameras like this one in DC.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Election really is over in Pennsylvania

I guess I will give in to the tsunami of political chaos and at least poke at this election I hear is coming up.  Turns out the Pennsylvania Secretary of State says it really is over in Pennsylvania at least:

Relax...  it says that is all up there for testing is all. 

But the national pundits are all agreed that Pennsylvania is mostly off the national election radar.  What activity you might see in local advertising is likely the residual caused by our proximity to nearby states where the campaigns have not conceded the outcome.

But why is Pennsylvania, which at one point was one of only 5 states which voted for Hoover over FDR, now ever more solidly Democratic?   At least part of the answer is this.  Poking at some Pennsylvania voter statistics I compiled this:

Anyway..I like to stay more ahead of the curve. It's not too early to talk about.  Santorum vs. Clinton in '16 is going to be interesting.  


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Yunz are cactus now

So this really is a remarkable bit of labor reporting....

The Wall Street Journal has an in depth look at a Pittsburgher who moved to Austrialia in August in search of well paying employment.   See: American Fills a Jobs Shortage—in the Aussie Outback - An American's Coveted Gig: Three-Week Shifts at Mining Port in Remote Australia

The story is behind the paywall, but use the Google News back door and search for the article and you should get to read it.

It goes into the story of Charles Stella, a 31-year-old boilermaker from Pittsburgh, who moved to Australia because of the well-paid jobs there.   Note that it appears Mr. Stella was employed when he was here, but the prospect of much better paying employment is what prompted him to move literally around the world.  Migration is indeed just a form of arbitrage.

update:  a reader points out that Perth, where Mr. Stella landed, is about as close to Pittsburgh's antipode as you can get anywhere on the face of planet earth. Literally the place farthest from Pittsburgh as is possible.

So it is remarkable in lots of ways.  Here in Pittsburgh our knowledge of all things Australian rarely extends beyond that which Crockodile Dundee might have (mis)taught us.  Remember this old post here: Thought she was cactus.

If you really take the time to read the whole piece, take  note of the very last paragraph. 

There was a video produced by the WSJ to go along with the story which is available. Also his abbreviated diary is part of the story package.


Economics must really be like witchcraft then.....

...  if as the county describes the far more mundane task of property assessment thusly last week:
"assessing property values is more art than science, and something which is "not capable of mathematical accuracy"

The straight line that presents is overwhelming me... so I will just shut up.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

From Lawrenceville to Troy Hill

I got nothing... The PG runs a new picture of the point every few days so I figure I can use this pic from last weekend as filler.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Linear or quadratic?

Just playing with numbers is all:


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Counting destiny

Yesterday was a small story that comes out annually on the state of enrollment in the Pittsburgh School District.  PG: City Schools Enrollment Drop Less Than Expected. The story focuses on just a couple numbers being reported by the school district, but it is of course a story based on a whole lot of numbers that don't get mentioned. 

The big mystery seems to be why enrollments of new kindergarten and pre-K students didn't drop as much as expected.  Here is what we know from the very recent 2010 Census of the population by single year of age living in the city of Pittsburgh.  So children who were age 3 two years aro are now 5 or so and in those pre-K years. 

Sure seems to me that the birth years coming into the school system are trending up. Population in the city under age 1 in 2000 (so born between 4/1/2009 and 4/1/2010 techically) is 28% higher than the population born 6 years earlier and still residing in the city.   Now it is not that simple and for school districts there is a lot of inter and intra-regional migration impacting enrollment trends.. something that is surely true for the city's school system.  It might be that young families are more likely to move out after a child is born which might produce that pattern, yet not produce increasing enrollments by the time the children reach school-age.

So let's compare to 2000 at least to see if the pattern is really just a repeat.  Here is the same data from both 2000 and 2010.


The 2000 data does not show a decline in population by birth cohort leading into the earliest school age.  So at least superficially there are a couple things to think about.  Looks like right now there are more kids heading into the schools within the city.  Why? If you infer from the 2010 data there are some bigger cohorts coming; those who were age 1 or 2 in 2010 are bigger than the cohorts just older than them.  Lest that be taken a bit too optimisitically for the school district look again at the comparision to 2000 and note that the cohort sizes for every year are far below where they were a decade ago; those under 6 or 7 in 2000 likely are just graduating out of secondary school right around now. All recent age cohorts are smaller than any cohort a decade earlier. So the long run steady state for the school system may still be trending down a bit as these smaller and younger cohorts age through the system.  Still what deserves more thought is just how different the two years look.  The 2000 data actually looks like it had bigger age cohorts as you get older, the opposite pattern of 2010.

But for those who want to look more at trends in City of Pittsburgh demographic trend we compiled that all to death a year ago. The truth is there are a lot of differnet things going on. Different migration patterns for different types of households and and far different trends in different parts of the city as well.  So no one story.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Morning over the Alleghenies

No time to parse, but some might want to see the latest promo piece (too long to be advertisement...  certainly not a documentary so I am not sure what to classify it as) from the MSC folks on all things Natural Gas in Pennsylvania:

If I were to  parse a bit I would start with the repeated story I heard in there again that shale gas development is creating some new boom in manufacturing employment in Pennsylvania.  Maybe in the future, but if someone wants to look at the recent trends in manufacturing employment in either Pennsylvania or even just the Pittsburgh MSA I just don't see how you can say it yet.. It clearly is usually stated in the present perfect continuous. That certainly is how people are taking it and a repeated conversation I will get into will be with folks who believe manufacturing employment in Pennsylvania is not just up, but up a lot in recent years because of shale gas related developments.  Actually if you check the previous links the the manufacturing employment in both Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh took pretty sizable hits just in the September data just out which is a story unto itself and there has not any palpable growth in years.

and Good Morning Wiz.


Friday, October 19, 2012

Finding the "Pittsburgh moment"

So a decade is a long time for sure.

Pittsburgh alumnus Richard Florida has some new quantification on all things creative.  In the Atlantic Cities is a summary of some recent work from his shop that is now showing Pittsburgh as #5 in a particular ranking of 'creative' contributions to the national economy.  So near the top? What a difference from just a few years earlier.

A decade ago the Creative Class meme emerged to a broader public with this piece in the Washington Monthly in May of 2002:  The Rise of the Creative Class; Why cities without gays and rock bands are losing the economic development race.

Not a lot of positive Pittsburgh vibe at the time coming from the latter reference there.

So I dunno what it all means.   Has Pittsburgh really changed so much over the decade between the two references?  I am a mesofact kind of guy and really believe that the trends emerging later in the decade are culminations of things that were well in process long before.  I will entertain the possibility that I am wrong and there was some eureka moment for the region.  The question then becomes when was this singular moment diverting Pittsburgh from its dystopian path? 

Since most economic measures, or to be specific the population migration measures, turned positive for Pittsburgh at least as far back as 2007 we can narrow down the.time period 'new' Pittsburgh emerged.  Not much in the 2002 article indicated any change had yet even hinted at emerging here so it has to be after that.  Yes he hedges a bit on Pittsburgh's prognosisis near the end of the article for those who read that far, but you really sense that was just to mitigate how it would he taken among his still-colleagues and neighbors.  One quote early on is this:
" Yet Pittsburgh's economy continues to putter along in a middling flat-line pattern. Both the core city and the surrounding metropolitan area lost population in the 2000 census. And those bright young university people keep leaving. "
All the young people were leaving?  Beathe Briem...  breathe. (note date on that btw)  

OK..  back from breathing into the paper bag.   Again, when is the 'Pittsburgh moment'?  So somewhere between 2003 and 2006.  Let's parse a bit further.  Total net migration for the Pittsburgh region turned positive by 2007 onward, I would estimate that the net migration of those under age 60 (which is the defintion of 'young' in Pittsburgh right?) likely turned positive a year  earlier (and was pretty minimal for years before that).  So the big turnaround version means that somewhere between 2003 and 2005 something happened.  Something big.  We obviously didn't notice at the time, but it must be so important to the region that we must try to distill it and resell it.  Any ideas?

It all reminds me of this video which is painful to watch, but I get a bit more erudite-sounding near the end:


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Love of LCD

I am fascinated that the third rail of Pittsburgh politics has remained...   billboards? PG today: Lamar fights proposed Pittsburgh ad tax with billboards. Trib:Lamar Advertising fights back against plan to tax billboards.   The stories highlight a billboard of Lamar's own doing that says "Worst economy in 50 years".   On that point I wonder if they realize they are in Pittsburgh? 

I guess not so suprising.  From an old post here I will regurgitate as the references are worth reading today:
The whole argument goes back much further. See The Index from 1906: Billboards, a menace to health. Or for the more complete treatment: Fighting “Civic Smallpox”: The Civic Club of Allegheny County’s Campaign for Billboard Regulation, 1896-1917, by Kristin Szylvian Bailey. Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, January 1987.

The lesson?  What goes around, comes around.

Billboards are indeed in the news elsewhere and in particular a spat with local government in Los Angeles. Digital billboard politics: Clear Channel and CBS win critical Los Angeles battle

The headline implies a victory for billboard owners there, but as I read it the victory is that out there 100 billboards will generate $25 million in taxes for city government.

But how convoluted are all things billboard in that utterly indescribable Pittsburgh way?  The CP version of the news today gets quotes from the executive director of Scenic Pittsburgh a group opposed to billboards and run by one former county commissioner Mike Dawida.   Who beat Mike Dawida for the position of County Executive?  One Jim Roddey whose big business background was as president of a billboard company.  If it were not potentially a blaspheme I would suggest a deity is playing games with us.  Pittsburgh, the knowledge-town IT center of the world being convulsed by billboards, the information technology of the 19th century. 


Post-Soylent Pittsburgh Labor Force

For all those who dispute it... how about this version with a time series of the Pittsburgh region's labor force.   All time peak? Yes? No?   No sign of inflection in the recent trend either for that matter. 

Still working to get this to embed practically.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

500 months of unemployment

512 months actually.  This is mostly a test, so comments appreciated on whether this works.  Below ought to be an interactive graphic of the Pittsburgh region's unemployment back to 1970.  If the embed does not work it can be seen via this link directly.

update:  my embed is doing funky things.. but still appreciate comment on what people see via direct link.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Retroactive record setting unemployment rates

Little noticed in the media, but there was a big change in labor force stats routinely reported on each month for the Pittsburgh region. 

A few may remember this post from April when I mentioned that the Bureau of Labor Statistics was reporting seasonally adjusted unemployment rates for the Pittsburgh region that were different from what the state's own numbers were showing.  Not the biggest of discrepancies so no big deal.  The difference between the two data points was not an error, but an artifact of two different methodologies for adjusting raw labor force data for seasonal variation.  

It turns out that with the data just released last week (beginning with the August MSA data) the state has basically given up on using their own models and are now reporting the BLS version of the same regional labor force data for MSAs within the state.  OK, not a problem there.   They also are using the BLS data going back in time to 2000.   Basically all the historical unemployment rate data as reported contemporaneously has been changed.  In some months the differences between the old and new unemployment rates for Pittsburgh can be quite substantial up to as much as 4/10ths of a percent. 

But one theme here in recent years is that we have been generally bouncing around or in a few months tying a month in the 1970s which was the last period in which the regional unemployment rate was so far below the nation's unemployment rate.  The new data actually works out to be a new record (in the past).  In October of 2009 the national unemployment rate was finally reported at 10.0%.  For the Pittsburgh MSA the originally reported final unemployment rate was reported at 8.0% which gives a difference of 2.0 percentage points.   The new unemployment rate being reported for the region that month is 7.7% which gives a difference of 2.3 percentage points below the national unemployment rate.  That would be the largest gap by which Pittsburgh's unemployment rate below the national unemployment rate in any data since 1970 and likely much further back.

There are actually a slew of contemporanous news stories, punditification, and headlines that all would have to be qualitatively rewritten if the revised data were known at the time. It all gets again to how much we overinterpret these monthly labor force data dumps. Hold that thought because there are some bigger issues in that I may get back to. 

With the revision of data back to 2000, the entire time series has been changed.  Here is the updated version of my chart showing the difference between local and national unemployment rates. If you really want to discount what the green means, I don't have time to update my calculation of the cumulative difference in this chart, but basically these are unprecedented times in some ways for the region's labor force..  Think all that may have something to do with the record size of the regional labor market and recent net migration flows into the region?  You bet. 


Monday, October 15, 2012

Not my excuse

The best blog post title ever comes from Al Roth:  Blog May Be Delayed Today.

Professor Roth was at Pitt for 16 years and by the way it was announced he won the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences today


Saturday, October 13, 2012

Wonk Archives: Neighborhood Change Edition

We really do forget, or at least misunderstand, our history. 

So as we watch various neighborhoods change, I sense a lot of folks think efforts to improve neighborhood conditions is something new here.  Few things are further from the truth.  Take just this onmibus report now scanned:

Urban Renewal Impact Study, by the Allegheny Council to Improve Our Neighborhoods; 1962.

It gets a lot of prognostication wrong, but a lot of insights there as well.  Some highlights:

p A-8: puts to myth the notion that some or most depressed communities declined because of the drop in steel employment that was mostly yet to come when that was written.

Also lots of great discussion of issues with our slopes and hillsides.   Lots of discussion of housing conditions.  The thing there is that for the City of Pittsburgh and nearby environs there has not been much new housing built since 1960.  So whatever the issues were then, add 50 years of depreciation.

Finally on page 25 is this paragraph:
Complete dependence upon local municipal initiative and resources for stimulatinG renewal in the county is bound to fail. With the exception of Pittsburgh, McKeesport and a few of the other larger and more affluent municipalities, Allegheny County Boroughs and townships needing renewal are too small and too lacking in resources to undertake renewal without county assistance. At present, Allegheny County and its smaller communities are falling behind its own major cities as well as other urban areas in the renewal effort for lackof coordination, programming and the tachnical and financial assistance.

nuff said.



Friday, October 12, 2012



Thursday, October 11, 2012

The only VP debate moment worth watching

I know everyone harkens back to the Bentsen-Quayle moment.. but the best moment in Vice Presidential debates came 4 years later and this opening line.  And I still think the game wins the ratings tonight.


Air Mendoza

Some things need to be looked at relatively.   It looks like national air transportation stats for the nation show a pretty consistent increase in passengers.  Yet the news here is a decline, and a pretty big decline at over 5% year over year, in passengers at Greater Pitt. .  Remember when prognostications were all aglow over a nominal increase in traffic of just over 1%? Nobody really contemplated it was all a potentially itinerant bounce from Air Roustabout?  Anyone? Not in the record at least.

So if you look at the current ranking of the top 50 airports in the US.. and impute a 5% decline here between 2011 and 2012 you get a gloomy potentiality.   It is entirely possible Pittsburgh's airport drops off that list entirely?  Probably we are still hanging in there, but not by much and I bet right now we are hovering near that #50.

Maybe we will be forced to go Amtrak?  Or not.  A commenter in a previous version of this post suggests more folks want to drive to nearby east cost destinations.  For sure that is true, but are folks driving because they want to, or because they can't find affordable flights instead. The inference was that driving is easier I guess, which would mean the airport's real trend is caused by the return of the 65 mph speed limit.

Here is the thing.  Most stories on utilization at the airport look at the trend since the new terminal was built.  for example this graphic. That time frame may be missing the boat. What about if you start earlier and look at the trend?  I have gratuitously thrown in Cleveland in this graphic of enplanements since1989.   The new terminal here opened in 1992 yes?   What does the period before the new terminal look like compared to now. 


1989 :
1990 :
1991 :
1992 :
1993 :
1994 :
1995 :
1996 :
1997 :
1998 :
1999 :
2000 :
2001 :
2002 :
2003 :
2004 :
2005 :
2006 :
2007 :
2008 :
2009 :
2010 :
2011 :


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Daily Data Dump

OK... not really daily, but.....

The Federal Reserve at the other end of Cleveburgh has a bunch of updated maps on Allegheny County foreclosure patterns and related online here.

As a follow up to this post on the latest from the Trulia on the debate over urban-suburban growth of late.... they have updated their post to include specific metro data.  Pittsburgh as a region ranks near the top in terms of how much urban growth there has been compared to suburban growth.  But it is entirely a relative kind of thing.  Pittsburgh at #5 of 50 is showing up as nearly even urban/suburan growth. Most metros continue to have more suburban growth.  Here is their table via previous link"

So not really local, but Amtrak ridership is up.   I bet not here, but who knows?  Anyone have local Amtrak data?  I still think Lance Armstrong could outpace Amtrak service to nearby destinations. 

Not data per se....  In Ohio the state is possibly looking at loan guarantees to encourage purchases of natural gas vehicles. What confuses me is this newsoid sent in from the NS peanut gallery.. if there is some impending rush toward NatGas vehicles... why does Honda need to offer new and bigger discounts on purchases of NatGas cars in California where regular gasoline is so expensive these days?  Still looking for the first arms-length consumer purchase of a NGV in Pittsburgh.


Water on fire

Some may have noticed the emerging marketing theme arguing that Pittsburgh is a place for investment because of...   water.  As in H2O.  The veracity of that is a topic unto itself. I always find it curious how the argument can be made when much of the region is subject to what could be a fairly draconian consent decree if there is not a massive new investment in our water infrastructure.  New investment that we have only made minimal preparations for as yet.  We won't even go into the sorry state of our locks and dams that are vital to our use of much of the local water supply.  It is like the Pirates advertising what great ownership and management they have.  Don't get me wrong, I think these are big real issues and I have long had on the book wheel on the right a great semi-recent book: The Great Lakes Water Wars by Peter Annin.   But hold all those thoughts.

What water wars are in the news of late?  Up in Milwaukee they also have a fair bit of water as well.  So much water that they also are arguing their water supply is a core part of their regional competitiveness... just like Pittsburgh.  But there is the problem for Milwaukee.  Pittsburgh: friend of foe؟  It turns out Milwaukee is renaming its "Pittsburgh Ave" to "Freshwater Way".  Really?  You could have paid a consultant to come up with that.  But why did they do it you ask?  Supposedly because they also want to lure water technology firms and "Pittsburgh" did not mesh with their vision of themselves.   OK then. 

Here is the thing.   I like Milwaukee.  I have to admit it has been a decade since I've been there, but it had a real Pittsburgh 'feel' to it when I was there.  A real cross-midwest civic sympatico.  Or so I thought.

Apparently they have been working on this some time and I am not the first to take issue with the whole idea.  What do we do now that they have gone through with it all?  So I say take the high road.  No need for a counterveiling campaign to rename our Milwaukee St.  Maybe we need some confidence building measures to prevent a cross-midwest cold water war. 

In a world of unlimited time I would write the book explaining all of our street names.  Why do we have  "Milwaukee St" anyway.  And if anyone has specific history on why Milwaukee has a "Pittsburgh Ave" I would love to hear it. 


Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Who uses Blogspot (?)

What goobers use blogspot? Take this and way cool. Note from time point 3:20!



Misreferencing Misoverestimated Population Redux

Remember this post:  Misreferencing Misoverestimated Population?

Some deeper follow up from folks at Trulia:   Even After the Housing Bust, Americans Still Love the Suburbs


Monday, October 08, 2012

From the archives: Johnny Unitas

All the talk of Johnny Unitas reminds me that even he has a place in the Null Space archives in this post from more than a few years ago: Johnny U.

The connectedness of Pittsburgh never ceases to amaze me. 


I need a Spanish translation for 'Cleveburgh'

Cleveland Plain Dealer today:  Cleveland will declare 'Bienvenidos' and try to catch the Hispanic wave

Sort of a Cleveland version of what we read locally recently: PG: Pittsburgh Promise aims to lure Hispanics with financial aid except with more data.  Note the Cleveland PD's benchmarking of local Hispanic populations. This isn't a Steeler Nation vs. Dawg Pound world any longer. 

I went through my longer thoughts on this at the time..  See this post if you wish: West End Story.  But what I also note if you read the Cleveland PD piece is they now clearly identify a byline of data analysis editor.  Note also I have put a lot of the latest stats on Pittsburgh's foreign-born population in the latest PEQ.




Sunday, October 07, 2012



Saturday, October 06, 2012

The real maps of Pittsburgh

Just cool..  filed under the things that make Pittsburgh Pittsburgh:  The Pittsburgh Hand Drawn Mapping Project

Now if only someone drew the all-Isaly's map. 


Friday, October 05, 2012

So you don't like the numbers

So I suppose this is expected and my own quibbling may even play into it, but there is a certain questioning of the latest national labor force data out today.

The doubt isn't new in some circles.  See clip from time 5:00 onward in this from USC Professor Daniel Mitchell's Youtube collection:


Which number do I use?

So here is a labor force story in the news today. Trib:  Job search dropouts abound

The theme there?  The labor force participation rate has been trending down.  Ok.  Hold that thought, but remember that the labor force participation rate is the labor force divided by the working age population variously defined. 

Now what do we know the local labor force?  Highest level ever.  Yes, currently the size of the regional labor force is at or near its highest point in history.  As in ever. All time. I tell people this and they just don't believe me. Most likely because the news all reads the opposite.  Of course it is mostly news reflecting national stats and not what is going on locally. 

So what if the labor force participation rate is going down, but the size of Pittsburgh's labor force is growing rather rapidly then what gives?  One of two things kind of has to be true.  One possibility is that thelocal labor force participation rate is shooting up; which makes that headline today the very opposite of what is the local story.

So I was going to end it there, but there is another story that gets to how we all overinterpret the monthly labor force data.   So the local labor force data just came out the other day and the headline is Pittsburgh's unemployment rate went up to 7.3%.

Or did it? 

7.3% is the number in the press release put out for sure (saved here dated October 1st). Yet compare those numbers to the numbers just posted on the state's interactive web site which were just updated as well.  What I see (downloaded October 4) is this and it is not 7.3%.

In itself not a big deal really and I suspect some revision did not get into the right file.  So I suspect one of the sources (press release or interactive data) will be updated to eliminate the discrepancy, but still it gets to the core point that the coverage of the monthly preliminary numbers is at least overwrought.     In fact if you look at the JULY 2012 numbers in the states press release and compare it to the interactive data the region's unemployment rate is different by 0.3%. That actually is kind of a big deal somehow.  Remember there was a news cycle on the first numbers that came out and we pay little attention to any revisions.

So depending on which dataset you look at you can't definitively say the latest numbers are the all time labor force high.  The important thing is the trend and that is still pretty clear.  Whatever is going on with the latest number the Pittsburgh region is at or bouncing around its all time labor force peak, a story completely overlooked locally.  It is certainly a story different from the nation's and deserves a lot more treatment than


Thursday, October 04, 2012

I have a driem

To the writers (in particular the writers), cast, crew, supporters and all sundry hangers-on at Off the Record XII:


I guess I can retire now.


Florida on Glaeser on Chinitz on Pittsburgh

So here is Florida on Glaeser on Chinitz in AtlanticCities today: Entrepreneurship and Urban Growth: A Fresh Look Using Proximity to Mines

The work of Ben Chinitz has been a topic here from before Post Zero. More recently read this post from July for some of the better contemporaneous quotes from the late economist Ben Chinitz on the state of the region's economy here long before anyone really wanted to listen. In particular compare the recent paper by Glaeser on the impact of Pittsburgh's coal economy bating back more than a century with what Chinitz saw in the region well into the 1960s.  Old news?  Is there a debate on resource based economic development going on anywhere, especially when it comes to workforce issues?  Naw, not here!

If you are still reading than you will want to read my friend Mike Madison's version of much of these themes in this working paper:  Contrasts in Innovation: Pittsburgh Then and Now

The Chinitz message goes way beyond the impacts of the coal economy here.  Though not directly attributed to him alone, Chinitz was also a director the 4 volume Economic Study of the Pittsburgh Region that had a more direct message for the region.  In particular this quote I re-use a lot.
...the Pittsburgh region's future depends to such a major extent upon retaining and attracting highly qualified and professional and technical people and business enterprisers, who are in demand everywhere and who command a high standard of residential amenity and cultural and professional opportunities
.That quote is from 1964 and specifically from: Region With a Future. Volume 3 of the Economic Study of the Pittsburgh Region. Produced by the Pittsburgh Regional Planning Association.

The message there, that human capital was as vital, if the the most vital, factor in future regional competitiveness, may sound de riguer today it was as revolutionary as it was ignored at the time.  Pittsburgh would be as unprepared for the the future for decades to come and make the pain of the transition that had to come all that more painful. 

So it was a message before its time, not just for Pittsburgh, but for regions most everywhere.  50 years later people still may argue with it, but it is not such a cry in the dark. 


Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Sic Semper Sid

Obligatory last version.  The subtitle is 'Memorex':

Or if you prefer this version:


Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Pod or bust for me

Image source
So we learn the state of planning (pre-planning might be better description) of improvements to transit between Downtown and Oakland, arguably the busiest travel corridor in the region if counting people.  PG Roundabout: How 'rapid bus' might look in Oakland

We learn that that the nation's über transportation consultant, Parsons Brinckerhoff, is working on a bus rapid transit type improvement.  Funny thing is, just a couple years ago the talk was about a Personal Rapid Transit system along that corridor. Was all that considered and rejected? I missed that news story along the way possibly.  Or is there a plan for PRT still in the works?  Hard to tell from the web site.  Personal Rapid Transit (or PRT) you ask?  What they have at West Virginia University and that which is the remaining legacy of...   SKYBUS!

Why does it matter?  There happens to be new research out of Ohio State that looks at the state of metropolitan transportation planning in America and how it impacts regions.  For us the summary: "...transportation sustainability declined more quickly than average over those years in such cities as Pittsburgh and New Orleans".  Pittsburgh is listed among the "Cities that lost the most ground in transportation sustainability".  Yes, we are moving backwards. 

Parsons Brinckerhoff, by the way, really is the über consulting firm for transit and transportation across the nation and going back a long time.  For Pittsburgh it was Parsons Brinckerhoff that put together the rosetta stone known as the 1967 Allegheny County Rapid Transit Study .  That and other seminal pieces of the city and region's transit policy history are on my Pittsburgh Transportation Bibliography. I do need to update it and I recently acquired a copy of the 1951 Mass Transportation Study of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.  (yes, that the type of thing I am goober enough to buy on Ebay when I find them).  But I still need to scan it. 

Why does it matter part 2? So plenty of folks take issue with my position criticizing the abandonment of all future rapid transit development in the region.  Rapid transit by most definitions means underground, subway, elevated railway, metro or metropolitan railway  By that definition  "Bus Rapid Transit" is arguably an oxyomoron technically. I think some are exhausted by the North Shore Connector debate. I do appreciate the cost issues involved.  Still at the end of the day there are some clear examples of how new rapid transit can impact communities in ways there are far fewer examples of similar impacts of bus routes (whether 'BRT' or not).

For example, see the latest research looking at what has happened in specific District of Columbia neighborhoods.  and no, I appreciate the greater complexity of neighborhood development, but I just don't see how you escape the impact of rapid transit lines.  In DC and the Green Line example mentioned there is an extreme case.  Long ago before the line was even begun I and some friends almost rented a house in DC that wound up being right next to where a new station was slated to go in.  Let's just say that the house next door from what we were looking at had a true growing up through the house.  Not intentional either. Now the same real estate must cost a fortune. 

So we can have that debate, but I will throw this out there.  I bet the usage of the North Shore connector is higher than many expected.  It also represents the hardest part of getting rapid transit over to the other side of the river.  Why do the hard part and stop there? Is it time to talk about extending transit to some of the fastest growing parts of the region in the North Hills and Southern Butler County?  Yes, I said it.  Rapid transit to Cranberry!   Anywhere but Pittsburgh it would be normal to at least debate the need to get rapid transit to the fastest growing part of the region. 


A bus ad too far

Via Aaron Renn and Streetsblog is what is being called the coolest advertisement for public transit ever... of course it is not from the US:

I don't think the Port Authority has come close on the noteworthy scale in years decades when they used to have material like this (I added the red at one point in the past): 

So if you are wondering, the Port Authority has a palpable advertisement budget these days.   The way to judge advertising is how memorable it is. Can you think what is on any Port Authority ad currently running? 
Can't think of what the current Port Authority advertising meme is?  We need to help them out and crowdsource some material.   So everyone has some videomaking capability these days on their phones or digital cameras.  How would you continue a statement that starts like this:
Why do I use the bus (or "T", or "incline")? Because......
 If anyone wants to record their answer the following question and mail me ( the clip, or put onto any pubic site and send me the link, I will post the best entries. 


Monday, October 01, 2012

Book arbitrage anyone?

Something I should have checked into, but the CP has parsed the current spot prices on Pirates tickets. German Mark at the end of the Weimar Republic were worth more than that. In physics that would be called a singularity. A black hole if you like and may be the most apt metaphor. In pure stream of consciousness it reminds me of something I noticed once and still seems to be the case.  Remember the Pittsburgh Signs Project.  For some reason those books appear to be collectibles in some markets.  Like almost $1000/book??  Each book then works out to be worth more than the current market value of all the Pirates tickets that will be used for the remainder of the season.  I do mean cumulatively.