Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Airline wants to make Pittsburgh its hub/hq

DailyPress (VA): People Express says Pittsburgh is now in running for airline's headquarters -,0,6434221.story

The fodder that provides is a bit overwhelming, so I will just pass it on. 

OK.. I lie. Just one trip down memory lane.  Some may remember: onboard ticketing!!  I remember it well actually. I hope someone has pointed out to them that the TSA may look askance at trying to recreate that business model. 

Obligatory Vannevar comment?

addendum: There be news here. Channeling Lee Majors, that is.


Monday, January 28, 2013

Tale of two charts

With December data recently out.  More and more workers in Pittsburgh, and another new all-time high in the size of the regional labor force. Bigger observation is that the rate of labor force growth here is not slowing down either. In fact, for December it was the largest year over year increase in the region's labor force in over 15 years:

But the proportion that are are working in the mills is within an insignificant digit of its all-time low. Now down to 7.5% as of December.



Saturday, January 26, 2013

the future greatness of metropolitan Pittsburgh

Just click to zoom and read:


Thursday, January 24, 2013

by popular demand

Again from: Transit: A Part of the Pittsburgh Plan.  Report #3 of the Citizens' Committee on City Plan, September 1923.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Walkability then, walkability now?

From: Transit: A Part of the Pittsburgh Plan.  Report #3 of the Citizens' Committee on City Plan, September 1923

addendum: same illustration to capture legend


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Charts that work

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has put up a new site with interactive data on occupational employment in the United States.  Worth a look to all labor wonks (and others).

Why important?  I think this one chart says an awful lot about the economy of Pittsburgh and it's workforce.


Monday, January 21, 2013

Daily Reading

If you didn't catch these from the fall.  Don Carter has a chapter on Pittsburgh in:  SynergiCity: Reinventing the Postindustrial City

and some may recall the great Sports Illustrated article on Aliquippa.  It made it into The Best American Sports Writing 2012

There is a real Yin and Yang when you read both articles together. Many think the real story here is defined by one version exclusive of the other completely.  Reality is complex and both have some core truths for Pittsburgh today. 


Sunday, January 20, 2013

Unhistory takes flight

Just because there is a bit of unhistory in the blame at this point.. Here is a headline from the Pittsburgh Press in 1984:  Cannot support another terminal, USAir head says.  In it there is a great quote from USAir folks who:
" ... acknowledged there are problems at the airport, but none of them are considered severe enough to warrant building a new terminal"

How does that fit with what you have heard since then on the history of all of this.  Just saying is all...  standard history blames USAirways for insisting on a new terminal and then not living up to their end of the deal.  Reading that you have to wonder who was pressuring whom to invest so much.

Anyways. We've looked at the employment impact of US Air(ways) here and incremental changes to the flight schedules from PIT make the news routinely. Some may note the airport is desperately trying to increase the flight destinations you can reach directly from Pittsburgh.  Yet, I am suprised nobody has every bothered to map out what the available direct flights are from the airport here.  If that image exists I can't find it easily in the public domain. More interesting though is how that map must have changed since the peak of US Airways operations here say between 1998 and 2001.  So I quickly get this picture of the history (click on the image itself to get a better resolution version):


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Men, migration

Just for the infographic in itself this is worth looking at from the NYT last week: A migration of unmarried men.  Pennsylvania does not seem to show up in those migration stats at all.  It makes me wonder about a lot of things.  Was there some vast untapped labor resource in Pennsylvania for these jobs.  If so then why has the need to replace retiring coal miners been a big issue in the state for so many years now?  Hmmmm....

Which is not to mean there are not gender issues here no matter.   From the latest data available I get this for the distribution of new hiring across the state for the industries most impacted by oil and gas development. You might think 10% is a Mendoza line of sorts. 


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Johnstown forever

So if there is any doubt what drives the stats behind this article today: Full home ownership here is nation's best, it really is pretty simple.  Of those who did not leave Pittsburgh, we have not had many folks move around.  Likely for many depressed home values prevented the type of equity appreciation that fuels normal real estate markets. That along with the lower number of people who have moved into the region translates to fewer newer mortgages out there. I know that sounds a lot less folksy than we just love our neighborhoods, but it really is hard to dispute.

So what has been true a long time is that Pittsburgh, (city, region, or something in between) has long ranked near the top in the percentage of householders who have lived in their current home the longest period of time. It follows that more folks have paid off their current mortgage as a result. The question is why.  Is Pittsburgh an anomaly?

So to check that out, I pulled the data on the median year householders moved into their current homes for each and every MSA in the nation. I am getting 366 total MSAs currently defined.  Here is the very low end of that ranking.  Johnstown PA has, by this metric, the longest tenured folks who have not moved.  Pittsburgh last the longest tenured residents among large metro areas, thus the ranking in the article today.   But notice the whole Cleveburgh thing going on? Maybe it is just a greater rust belt pattern.  In this bottom 11 list  is Altoona, Pittsburgh, Youngstown, Cumberland, Wheeling, Steubenville-Weirton and Johnstown.  We have moved past the rust belt history in lots of ways, but there should be no doubt the impacts linger.

2007-2011 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates

356  Altoona, PA  1999
357  Barnstable Town, MA  1999
358  Bay City, MI  1999
359  Danville, VA  1999
360  Pittsburgh, PA  1999
361  Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, OH-PA  1999
362  Cumberland, MD-WV  1998
363  Scranton--Wilkes-Barre, PA  1998
364  Wheeling, WV-OH  1998
365  Steubenville-Weirton, OH-WV  1997
366  Johnstown, PA  1995


Monday, January 14, 2013

Number of the day: 775,000

That is the number of hunters and anglers in Pennsylvania in 2011.  Down from over a million in 2006.

What is causing this cataclysm in the woods?  Time to update the world's ultimate Trout report.


Saturday, January 12, 2013

Sic Semper Bob

Look, I have not mentioned Border Guard Bob in like... months at least. Yet I must admit it was the vanity news filter that caught this... Rust Belt Cities: Invest in Odysseus, Not Barney Fife

BTW, for the anti-Bob perspective (or is it the pro-Bob perspective?) I am really quite fascinated with the negativism on this site:

Like all things Pittsburgh, it all ties together.   As referenced in the first link, when I wrote on Border Guard Bob a decade ago it was remarkable the unsolicited comments I received from around the region, and around the nation even, from folks who found it incomprehensible that there was any positive spin on the story of Pittsburgh. For some there was no equivocation. The Pittsburgh story, as it were, was bad then, and would undoubtedly be bad forever. No doubt Pittsburgh is far from perfect, but it is the severe pessimism of many that always gets me thinking. 

The Border Guard Bob story really is about 15 years ago now.  It is remarkable to consider that the very idea of Bob was once thought to be a no-brainer. When I first commented on how bad an idea the concept was the immediate, and supposedly unassailable, response I got was "the focus groups loved it." No doubt a focus group of Pittsburghers.  It all really reflected a deeply rooted insecurity.  The "Pittsburgh angst" I think I once called it all.

While times have changed, there is a severe strain of nabobism that persisted for long.  Much of that has abated, but I still get strong blasts of similar sentiment from many... though I suspect it is a shrinking cohort.  Still, that 'leavingpittsburgh' site encapsulates it and appears current. I notice similar sentiment pop up elsehwere. While I am loathe to resort to the ad hominum, and have no doubt many share the negative thoughts, I really wonder if some have a vested interest in propounding negative PR.  Curious in some ways, but still. 


Friday, January 11, 2013

Shale R Us

So if you care about what the (r)evolution in shale gas development means to the economy and have some illusion it is a simple question this is required reading...    NYT: Would Exporting the Natural Gas Surplus Help The Economy, or Hurt?

On how bad forecasting energy markets can be. Coalguru: Natural gas prices in US to remain low in 2013

How bad is it for coal these days: Coal Loses Crown As King Of Power Generation


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Mortgage Free Pittsburgh

From the LA Times: Nearly one-third of U.S. homeowners have no mortgage.  Note obligatory Pittsburgh shout out.

Of course, it is a metric that is mostly an artifact of age.  That and much lower migration into the region, which means a greater percentage of folks living here have lived where they do for a long time.  One of those benchmarks that just may not mean much in and of itself... or possibly means something quite different form what some might infer. 


Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Counting apparatchiki

Governing covers the metrics of local govenment fragmentation: How well is power spread across metro areas?

Obligatory shout out to us in there of course. Remember this graphic on local governments in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

I have not updated my page on local government organization here in some time.  Still lots of references of note there. Since nothing ever really changes, it is all technically current info; just as it will be in a decade.  More fun is just a reposting of my graphic of all local governments in Pennsylvania below. And for the completely pathological, see the United States' version


Monday, January 07, 2013

Rent R us

Of note in Bloomberg today: "...Pittsburgh, where rents are at their highest in more than a decade."  Anyone have the underlying report?

In itself the writeup is curious in what it omits, but it raises the spectre of a bigger conundrum.  Most benchmarking of cost of living differences between regions mostly come down to housing costs.  Similarly, real estate costs are a big part of business costs.  So does this all mean Pittsburgh's advantage in cheaper real estate has its days numbered? 


Sunday, January 06, 2013

Wanderlust near and far

WQED last night ran a local documentary on biking the Great American Passage from here to DC by local writer Robert Isenberg.  I guess I should have brought a video camera, but see our trip report from a few years ago.

and yes...   To map!  Points for the goat and sextant imagery in ink.

and more on a personal note, but the big bruhaha over names in Iceland is fasincating to me. It turns out that "Briem" is one of the few surnames allowed to exist in Iceland, though I can't begin to tell you what my Icelandic roots would be.  If they exist they likely come via some immigration via Alsace-Lorraine in the 19th century or before.  Many moons ago, my very  first web page was mostly of pictures of Iceland from a trip there, at which time I actually did not know the taxonomy of Icelandic surnames at all.  Some of the first unsolicited e-mails I received were indeed from Iceland asking about my unknown Icelandic-ness.


Saturday, January 05, 2013

Number of the day: $6.34 billion

Inspired by this PBT story just out: Hospitals face funding cuts March 1. The total amount of Medicare transfer payments into the Pittsburgh MSA in 2011 amounted to $6.34 billion.  Up from $93 million (nominal dollars) in 1970.   Medicare is just part of medical related transfer payments into the Pittsburgh region's economy.  For 2011, all medical related transfer payments, Medicare, Medicaid, other government programs, amounted to over $10 billion.  Those are annual $ flows, not cumulative over some number of years.

If you want to see how this has changed over time, you may not believe it, but this chart is showing inflation adjusted $ values. I've put in for contrast the comparable data for retirement related transfer payments, the bulk, but not all, of which is Social Security. Also, if you really start to ponder this graph, you have to know a couple big factoids. The elderly population (age 65 and over) for the Pittsburgh region peaked in the mid 1990s, around 1995/6 and then decreased for much of the next 15 years. Only in recent years has that trend stabilized and likely begun to increase. So the growth observed over the last two decades is not because that population has been growing here, but it will be into the foreseeable future again.


Friday, January 04, 2013

Apples and oranges and counting workers

OK… this is for labor force wonks only.

So if you read the official press release on the monthly dump of labor force statistics, a headline the state points out is that the count of total unemployed in the region dropped by 2,000 between October and November, and that was the largest monthly drop since May of 1999! A meme some of the media picked up on.

Well… sort of.
If you look back in the news, there were plenty of months were unemployment drops of 2K or much more were reported.  But that data has all been revised and virtually all larger month over month changes were dampened down (which begs a question, what would the 2K unemployment drop have been under the old data?) So it all depends how you look at it.

Some may recall that the state recently switched the method of seasonal adjustment for this data.  I went into that in some detail earlier.  Basically, the state stopped applying their own seasonal adjustment, and instead standardized on the US Bureau of Labor Statistics data.  OK. No problem.  They also did what is a good analytical thing and switched their historical data to reflect the new adjustment, even though it was different from what was reported at the time.  OK as well.   They did that ‘backcasting’ all the way back to January of 2000 which is what the BLS was providing. 

Soo…  is the current unemployment drop the biggest since 1999?  Basically you have apples and oranges.  The new seasonal adjustment clearly smooths out a lot of month over month variability than in the past.  So ove the last decade there were plenty of months where unemployment dropped by 2,000 or more in the region.  But with the seasonal adjustment they went away.   No surprise that the last big jump  was in data from the earlier decade, which reflects the older seasonal adjustment that allowed for bigger monthly jumps in the data.  
How different are the new vs. old seasonal adjustments?  Just compare what the time series looks like before and after January 2000.  Lot's of variation just gone per this graphic of whatis nominally supposed to be consistent data looking backwards.    
Note the whole time series is for seasonally adjusted data.  But there is no need for my highlighting to show where the seasonaly adjustment algorithms differ.  Two pretty different realities. 

And this is not a story of a decade ago vs. now. The data that was coming out earlier last year was really the older data. Lots of contemporeanous month by month analysis of that data over the decade would actually be very different if the data now being reported was used. Basically a lot of apparent 'news' at the time just got wiped away by the new data.

So the punchline?   Know your data.  Goes beyond repeating a number.

For some simpler punditry.  Employment and Labor Force for Pittsburgh are again hitting new all-time highs in November.   I will always argue to look at trends more than the monthly numbers for the reasons above and more.  So it turns out this is the 7th straight month in a row the region has hit a new all-time labor force peak.  I think we can begin to talk about it well beyond any monthly variation. Not that there has been a single mention of the factoid (all time peak labor force in Pittsburgh) by anyone.  Odd. 


Wednesday, January 02, 2013

This article gives me a certain headache. It's like a personal 'killer poke': Shale-gas revolution spurs wave of new U.S. steel plants


Tuesday, January 01, 2013

They're coming to get a Pittsburgh Rare Steak I guess

h/t to Jim Russell for catching this...  Billing above Marseille even.  I'm having a Sally Field moment.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy