Friday, April 19, 2013

More Migration

So part of me thought that the lack lack of attention to the U-Haul report out last week was a sign we had finally realized that it was no longer news that migration flows were net positive into Pittsburgh. Maybe not and the PG noted the factoid. U-Haul survey suggests young are moving to Pittsburgh. I also see the PBT mentioned it the other day.  What I am confused by a bit, is long before U-Haul put out their report which benchmarks 2012 data, it also looks like the dean of local real estate reporting, Sam Spatter, mentioned the 2012 U-Haul data specifically last month... again even though there was no U-Haul report released yet??? He quoted the exact number even???

BTW, and I realize some may not appreciate the semantics, but the U-Haul data is not survey based at all. Their documentation is a bit lacking, probably because it is pretty straighforward.  It appears to be a complete enumeration of their own records, not a sample of any other data.  Makes a difference in interpreting it. Certainly no sample error.

Anyway. I still to this day get people disputing me that migration flows are not all negative for Pittsburgh. If I do convince them, the argument is that it is all anomalous. Just a variation of nabobism. Is it all a big anomaly?

Total net migration appears to have been positive now for 5 straight years, 2007-2012.  I suppose there is a bit of a judgement call in how to characterize that, but 5 years does not make for an anomaly.  There is something else. Pittsburgh itself has not moved.  Nothing we can do about the weather for example.  There are migration flows of younger folks, and there are migration flows of older folks. There should be little doubt that migration flows of the older population are still net out of the region as folks typically retire to points South and West. Elderly migration flows are pretty consistent over time. That has not changed. The total migration flow for the region include all ages, including the older migration flows that likely continue to be net out.

So while it is hard to measure annually, I personally believe that the net migration flows for the population say under 50 turned had to have turned positive at least a couple years before the total net migration flow turned positive. That puts us near 2005 or so. We are not up to a decade yet, but getting there. Not only is it not a new story that young people are not 'fleeing' (used to always be the verb of choice) but it has really not been an issue at all for quite some number of years. Given another fact that net migration for Pittsburgh remained palpably negative through the 1990s, the shift from net out toward net in happened early in the 21st century. 

Back to the U-Haul report.  In itself old news sort of, and the Census population numbers were covered last month in their own news cycle.  All of these data points fall in on themselves.  The only value added from the U-Haul report for me is confirmation the trend has not changed.  If anything the trend for net in-migration might even be accelerating.  We never ranked number 1 on the U-Haul report in the past, so 2012 is better than previous years for us.  Really, we were pretty far ahead of the #2 region in their one metric that I think represents net migration rate. I am still pondering that some. Also, the census estimates reported on last month were technically based on migration flows through the middle of 2012, literally only to July 1.  So the U-Haul data appears to cover calendar year 2012.  I will base a large bet that we are currently almost done with the 6th year of net in-migration as will be reported on by the Census estimates next year. So the generation of young people not watching their classmates flee will be entering 1st grade soon.  They are going to be a confused bunch at this rate.

.... and we will learn a bit more of the trends later today when March nonfarm jobs data for the Pittsburgh MSA comes out.


Anonymous BrianTH said...

I'm not 100% sure, but my read is you would have to take the percentages reported by UHaul and then multiply them by the total number of moves (out + in) to get an equivalent to the net migration statistics we are accustomed to. In other words, I think their measure would be like taking in-migration as a percentage of total migration churn and then subtracting out-migration as a percentage of total migration churn.

So it is possible that we would not in fact rank #1 in what we might call net in-moves if there were one or more other cities with a positive percentage by their measure and then a sufficiently higher number of total moves.

Friday, April 19, 2013 10:04:00 AM  
Anonymous BrianTH said...

Random musings, incidentally:

A lot of times these discussions are focused on deriving, or confirming, or understanding the components of, and so on, the overall population trend for the area of interest.

That's a reasonable topic, but I have recently also been thinking about things like the rate of change in the underlying composition of the population. For example, by combining a natural decline, net out-migration of older people, and net in-migration of younger people, you may end up with a population that is changing relatively rapidly in terms of its composition even as it is not changing much in terms of overall population.

And change in composition may, in its own way, have as many or more implications for various public policy topics (e.g., land-use and transportation policy) as the overall population numbers.

Friday, April 19, 2013 10:15:00 AM  
Anonymous BrianTH said...

One last thought (I promise).

The PEQ's breakdown of the population estimates for 4/2010 to 7/2012 by county are really pretty remarkable. Specifically, in percentage terms Allegheny County is now near the top in both net migration and total change, which in turn means it is way, way far ahead of the rest of the counties in gross terms. For example, the only two other counties with a total population increase were Butler and Washington (no surprise, perhaps), and Allegheny County still had about three times as much total increase as both of those counties combined.

I think people often default to the percentages when thinking about which areas are "fastest growing". But in many contexts, the gross numbers may actually be more relevant.

This is probably an impolitic example, but take the question of where we should be making capital investments in anticipation of future population growth (say as part of transportation infrastructure policy). Comparing the expected percentage increases is probably not the right approach, and rather comparing the expected gross increases probably gives us a better first-cut estimate of what sort of regional allocation of capital resources we should be contemplating. So assuming (and admittedly this is a big assumption) the current population dynamic was expected to continue for a sufficiently long period, there would be a strong case that Allegheny County should be the focus of a very large percentage of such investments.

Again, this may not be a smart thing to say in a political context, at least not in this particular way. But I do think there is an essential truth to the fact that if positive net migration is going to be the dominant population-change force in the region for an extended period, and if Allegheny County continues to get such a large share of that net migration, then investing adequately in Allegheny County should be a high priority for the region (and in fact the state).

Friday, April 19, 2013 10:43:00 AM  

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