Wednesday, July 31, 2013

As the ink dries

We kind of lack a place for meta-media news coverage in town.  Usually not much to comment on, but there is today just up the turnpike at the other end of Cleveburgh.  Just one of those mysteries in town is how we have two daily newspapers still operating.  Lots of places, to include major metros, have a hard time keeping even a single daily newspaper operating.  Appears that the PD is following others with major changes in what they put into 'print'.. Cleveland is a city and region pretty much the same size as Pittsburgh. The Plain Dealer is pretty much the only major seller of ink up there, yet still appears to be struggling.  How can two nearly identical (market wise) places be so different when it comes to ink-based information distribution? My hypothesis is that our two-paper competition is why we still have daily newspapers in Pittsburgh. If either major paper existed on its own, I bet they might feel empowered to cut back production much as is happening elsewhere.

One result this morning is the big news is that the Cleveland Plain Dealer is laying off an unknown as yet number of its workers.  Not the first big set of layoffs at the Plain Dealer either.  Just a few years ago the PD ran a really positive story about Pittsburgh:Pittsburgh's renaissance holds lesson for Cleveland, and the writer of the story was laid off the very next day. Coincidence I am sure, but ironic. 

You can keep an eye on developments via media pundit Jim Romenesko or a Save the Plain Dealer Facebook page.


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Women vets

h/t to the Great Lakes Naval Museum for pointing out that today in 1942 FDR signed an act establishing WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) for service in the Navy.

Which coincidentally goes with a map from our friends at the Pennsylvania State Data Center. This has the proportion of younger veterans who are women by county.  What is up with Clarion County which is showing over a third (33.7%) of veterans residing there being women, the highest of any county in the state??  Twice the proportion of Allegheny county (16.5%) and much higher than all of its neighboring counties for comparison. I have no idea why, except maybe something to do with Clarion University, but that is just a guess. Worth for someone to look into.

update: just trying to look this data up myself the Clarion data seems to stand out in just the 5 year ACS data and not some of the other datasets.  Just fyi.


To be average

So the headlines are that the unemployment rate in the Pittsburgh MSA fell 1/10th of a percent between May and June and is now at 6.8%.   I will be curious how this all gets written up since the unemployment rate in each of the 7 counties in the MSA is reported as going up over the same period.  Go figure.

By the way the new data has new all-time peaks in both employment and labor force for the region as well.

But 6.8%...  is that high or low?  for Pittsburgh that is.   Here is a factoid.  The average unemployment rate in the Pittsburgh region since January 1980 is also exactly 6.8%.

But we are now up to 80 consecutive months in which the local unemployment rate has been below the national unemployment rate.


Sunday, July 28, 2013

To toast, to tweet, to tube

Caught this in the Boston Globe of all places: This (Pittsburgh) Toaster Can Tweet.

What strikes me is 1) how sublimely simple the circuit in itself is comprised only of a 'terminal board, a 1k resistor, and some alligator clips'.  Some third party hardware helps just a bit.  But  2) this doesn't even rate news here, and I am not suggesting it should; and 3) the story does not mention Pittsburgh's long long history of putting random devices on the Internet. 

On point 3... one could argue Pittsburgh has a big part in the history of gadgetry on the web.  Here is the seminal history of CMU's Coke Machine on the pre-web Internet. Finger that.

On the toaster in the news of late: (I've taken down the video because it auto-starts irritatingly enough so see first link above to access)


Saturday, July 27, 2013

"People in Detroit need to hear something good"

If you have not seen it, the A&E editor recommends watching: Searching for Sugar Man

Rocky Balboa meets Bob Dylan; music, philosophy, fate and if you choose to look at it that way... it really is a story about Detroit. Even more apropos of late.  

Yeah, the A&E department is a bit slow.  It will be six months at least before they have this Sharknado thing figured out. 


Friday, July 26, 2013



Thursday, July 25, 2013

When Detroit WAS Pittsburgh.... on film

or is it when Pittsburgh was Detroit?   I can play this meme forever.

I was reminded by this article on CNN of a factoid of note.   30 years ago the film Robocop is said to have presaged the downfall of the City of Detroit. See: CNN: RoboCop creator: Detroit shows the film's fictional future is upon us.  The most dystopian scenes were filmed in the ruins of the Duquesne and Monessen Steel works once operating right here.  What does that say about this whole Detroit - Pittsburgh meme being played out in the punditry? 

via the (talk about long tail) I found this image...  and did you know there is a Robocop remake coming? I bet the blow-up scene in that is going to be interminable. A little like the news coming out of Detroit of late.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Where Pittsburgh has gone before

You know, I believe Pittsburgh is getting more and more positive earned media out of Detroit's bankruptcy than we did from the whole G20 gig.

Beyond the list of media mentions already Bloomberg today gives lots of air to the Pittsburgh story. (full video).

Note I am pretty sure the hotel behind him still says 'Hilton'

addendum: Bloomberg has an encore and interviews the mayor on video the next day as well. I almost thought they reused the tape but note the tie color has changed.


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Detroit is dead, long live Detroit

In addition to conflating city and region, all the news and punditry on Detroit misses just how far Detroit's (regional) economy has clawed back from being at the nexus of the Great Recession.


Monday, July 22, 2013

The Bell Curve and its discontents

I think I will just meta-quote via Jim Russell and the NewYork Times on some great research in income mobility.  Here is Jim's highlighting of the shout out to Pittsburgh:

Yet the parts of this country with the highest mobility rates — like Pittsburgh, Seattle and Salt Lake City — have rates roughly as high as those in Denmark and Norway, two countries at the top of the international mobility rankings. In areas like Atlanta and Memphis, by comparison, upward mobility appears to be substantially lower than in any other rich country, Mr. Chetty said.

The original research out of Berkeley and Harvard is at:

This all is far more interesting than is obvious though it is a big deal unto itself . Throughout Pittsburgh's manufacturing-centered economy the income distribution here was anomalous compared to most of the rest of the nation.  Most of the nation had a relatively bell-shaped income distribution (albeit with a long upper tail) defined by a large number of households near the middle.  One could argue America is defined by that big middle class as it were.  What folks don't realize, and what I attribute a lot of our lingering pathologies to, is that Pittsburgh and just a few other regions did not have a big bulge of incomes near the middle.  We actually had a bimodal income distribution which means there were two big humps.  One concentration of relatively higher incomes and one big concentration of lower incomes.  Makes for a very different dynamic and it persisted as long as manufacturing remained the crux of the local economy.


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Sic Semper Pittsburgh Redux

Mostly generated by the news out of Detroit, but the news cycle is replete with references to Pittsburgh. It is like we are the paragon of fiscal virtue. 

No less than Paul Krugman weighs in today with this in the NYT: A Tale of Two Rust-Belt Cities

BBC was ahead of them: Detroit: Six ways 'shrinking' cities try to survive

AP: "Pittsburgh eventually reinvented itself": Detroit and the dearth of urban policy, which even plays in Japan.

Lots of Pittsburgh in this AP content (alas, now we have to tell them to update their photos to INCLUDE the fountain at the point working): Autos troubles, race at root of Detroit collapse

addendum each with obligatory Pittsburgh reference- Slate/Yglesias: Universities Are The Key Ingredient to 21st Century Urban Success  ,  The Times of India: What busted 'Debtroit' ? Free trade, huge pensions,

I swear some memo goes around to the media punditry on the theme for these news cycles. Some editor saying: must include Pittsburgh reference.  I feel a Ben Chiniz themed OPED welling up in me.

Anyway, I'm sure I have not caught all media mentioning Pittsburgh in this Detroit themed news cycle. That and more to follow I am sure. But if you want to trace this all back to article zero, I still believe this is the seminal pro-Pittsburgh story of the current era that was the seed for much of the media that followed.  Ironically from Detroit in 2008:


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Bankrupt is as bankrupt files

Let's be clear up front, I think there is immense good news around us here in Pittsburgh. Much of which is unnoticed.  Just yesterday data became available showing yet another new all time employment peak in the Pittsburgh region  That is for the REGION ok.   A lot of which is made up of the city of Pittsburgh, which also has a lot of good stories to tell. Good news for the city of Pittsburgh as well which maintains a high level of employment within the city proper.

But is it all such good news?  The Pittsburgh-Detroit meme is coming back, much as it started to at the beginning of the last recession.  Now we are onto looking at how the cities have fared given the big news in public finance world. See WashPo: Detroit goes bankrupt, largest municipal filing in U.S. history. Public finance is a topic unto itself and a story different from the metro economy.  In Detroit broadly the economic story is the auto makers are coming back and doing well.  Does not help the city's fiscal situation much which can't shed its history as easy as corporate America. So what about Pittsburgh?

So Time has this today: Pittsburgh's Lessons for Detroit. A curious, if telling, article that pretty much has no info on Pittsburgh. It is now just taken as a given we are a paragon of growth and recovery.

The topic at hand is big city finance.   What is wrong in Detroit is a huge huge topic we will all be gnashing over for decades, this being the first big city bankruptcy since New York City.  (Yes, I know full well NYC did not ever actually file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy, which is a topic unto itself that is not apropos here).   But is Detroit worse off than Pittsburgh?  Consider that one of the bigger issues in Detroit is the underfunding of their pension system.   The comparison of the two cities may shock you.

This all becomes very sobering when you realize that Detroit's pension system is much better funded than the City of Pittsburgh's pension system, no matter how you add up the numbers. Detroit's pension system is funded at either 69% or 91%. The 91% is the official number and based on some standard, if optimisitc assumptions.  91% is also the number to compare to Pittsburgh's if you want to compare consistent financial assumptions used in the calculation of Pittsburgh's pension funding.

Pittsburgh's pension system is reported to be 60% funded.  Yet, even that is misleading. Not only is Pittsburgh's pension funding calculated with a very optimistic assumption on future investment returns, but something else.  The biggest "asset" in the City of Pittsburgh's pension fund is the IOU it wrote to itself supposedly based on evening parking fees that have recently been cancelled. That IOU, for over $13 million a year is notionally estimated to equate to an asset value of $246 million. Take that out and you don't get a funding calculation anywhere near 60%.  In contrast Detroit's pension funding is entirely calculated based on real investment assets.

Just to be clear, if your retirement planning was based on the premise of the city of Pittsburgh, you would write a note to yourself saying you will save $X a year for the next 30 years.  Sign that note to say it is irrevocable and file it away between pages of some old book on your bookshelf.  If you don't follow through, you can always sue yourself for breach of contract and get your money. Problem solved.

The reality is much more painful. Pittsburgh has if anything worked to make it's pension situation worse in recent years. Still nobody really notices since the public meme is all was fixed. 

Like I said.. Even if you include the parking 'asset', Pittsburgh's pension funding ratio is far below Detroit's.  So even if you dispute my characterization of the notional parking asset... fine, ignore me.  Still the calculation of the city's pension unfunded pension liability in total is now even higher than when I wrote this in 2005. (official Jan 1, 2005 calculation of undunded liability = $469 million, I am pretty sure we are between $450-500 million today.... that is IF you assume the notional asset is real, higher otherwise.) I'd argue that the gap between actuarial assumptions and reality is much higher now than it was back then, but that is a bigger topic.

Lots of good news in Pittsburgh, but Pittsburgh's financial plight came from years (decades) of underplaying the city's pension problems.  The pension issues are worse than they ever were, yet everyone seems to agree there is no problem at all. At least in the past there was tacit agreement some problem was there, but that it was too much to do anything about. Today, just nothing. 

Ironically, Detroit's pension system might be even better funded if they didn't take a bath on their investment in Pittsburgh's casino.  Just had to mention that.  Of course it has also been brought to my attention that the Chilean government's pension system is now the owner of the sublimely flourescent K&L Gates Center downtown.  What big assets does the city of Pittsburgh's pension system own?  Oh, wait. I bet you can't use an IOU to yourself as collateral in a real estate purchase. At least not any longer.

and for those who have read thus far... for the post-credit scene....  anyone want to look at the 10 year trend in the pension funding ratio for Allegheny County?


Thursday, July 18, 2013

numbers... numbers.. numbers...

Two headlines reporting on the same exact same data point today:

PG:State unemployment rate holds at 7.5 percent in June

Patriot-News: A new, multi-year low for PA's unemployment rate

Not really their fault.  Looks like there was a screw up and the state labor force data was posted online a day early.  Looks like a lot of the online data is still a bit screwed up as of Thursday evening. As I write, not only is the June data online, but even the data for May which was released last month, has been taken down... inadvertently or not I do not know.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013


Long tail Pittsburgh economy news.....

Via the contributed content of is the latest in Pittsburgh hagiography: The Surprising Rebirth Of America's Industrial Centers.

The boom in Pittsburgh positivity runs in stark contrast with the news out of Milwaukee where they have finally gone and renamed their "Pittsburgh Street."  The new name: "freshwater street."  It really is interesting to ponder why they did it all.  The stated reason, at least early on, was that the name Pittsburgh did not connote what they wanted to for economic development. The new name, and a lot of their economic development focus up there is on the water economy. They didn't want their new Global Water Center to be located on "East Pittsburgh" street...  just does not work for the branding you know.  In fact, Milwaukee wants to brand itself the "Silicon Valley of water." Gotta give credit to their PR folks for getting so much earned media on that. Coincidental timing that this all comes out the day this article on water in Pittsburgh goes online.

I have to ask.  Do we sign a petition to send to City Council to have Pittsburgh's Milwaukee Street in the Hill District renamed to something else? 

Speaking of metro competition.  I have no idea what this will mean in the end, but Cleveland opens its half $billion dollar medical mart convention center tomorrow. Is there a new Cleveburgh convention gap?  But a huge public investment a couple hours up the turnpike has to mean something here? 

h/t to @sloaps for pointing out the most important shale gas news of the day.  Just one word: pipes.

On shale a more long form read comes from the Council of Foreign Relations: Energy Industry and the countryside.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A tale of three blog(h)s

PG announces its new blog: Pittsblogh......

........only to be immediately called out by the national media punditry for the already extant City Paper Blogh... See Jim Romenesko: Enough Already. Pittsburgh gets a second blogh for the similarity to the ancient (in Intertube years) City Paper Blogh.

Yet they also seem completely unaware of the once (and future?) blogosaurus-era Pittsblog. Not as if the PG ever mentioned the blog or its author... sometimes even in anachonistic INK. Who ever checks those archives?

So I am sure the semantic nuances are sufficient to keep everyone out of legal trouble, but personally I would shy away from potentially infringing on the intellectual property of an attorney specialized in..... intellectual property.  But that is just me.

Of course, it this was all a ploy to create hits for the nascent blog.  Brilliant!

Reminds me a bit of the pre-sports only PG Plus content. That and hasn't the era of the blog passed apogee? #bloghgate



Pittsburgh long tail news:

I can't tell, but I don't see any local notice of this little bit of biz news of Google relocating some jobs from Florida to Pittsburgh: See: Does Google have plans to move Channel Intelligence from C. Fla.? Not a large number of jobs I am sure, but some of us remember the angst of Lycos moving search industry jobs away from Pittsburgh.

If you want one clear metaphor for the changing Pittsburgh meme.... These ads would not have been a part of the Pittsburgh scene even a decade ago. AdWeek: Ads for Pittsburgh's Warhol Museum Wish You a Very Uncomfortable Summer

and everyone moves on.  A Pittsburgh name making news in Harrisburg. Patriot News: Pittsburgh developer considering turning closed Harrisburg School District buildings into senior housing.

and with a h/t to @nataliarudiak, your Yunzer zen of the day:






Monday, July 15, 2013

At the All-Star break

Just for reference, this is the Pirates chart at the All-Star break, a bit more than half way through the season.  Some suggest I am a pessimist.  Consider last year's peak remarkably mirrors this season thus far.  Consider also that last year the Pirates went 34-47 over the 2nd half of the season.  Of course, even if they repeat a similar dive, they are still going to finish above .500 this year.  So yay!


Saturday, July 13, 2013

Leave no transit mode behind

Transit defeatists begone. From Streetfilms and noticed via @otiswhite...  see the neat video of how Salt Lake City is building out Light Rail AND Commuter Rail AND thinking comprehensively about transit. Note discussion of bike/ped trails.. and even BRT.  I bet their Downtown transit center is something more than a rationalized parking lot.

Salt Lake City: A Conservative State Builds Progressive Transit from Streetfilms on Vimeo.


Friday, July 12, 2013

Yinzer Apophenia N'at

Nothing new to readers here, but I can't help but connect two PG virtual stories today. Virtual in that neither appear in ink.  In ER they cover some political angsting over EPA regulations impacting the coal industry. See: Republican delegation opposes EPA coal regs

Then for the old is new again file, see what the PG Digs Tumbr account has on the building of the US Steel building. US Steel Tower Nears Completion.

Unconnected stories?

Just a few years after the US Steel building went up, US Steel ran the full page advertisments below in local papers (in ink no less) decrying local environmental regulations. Regulations being promulated in the early 1970s by Allegheny County's air pollution folks in the health department. The same county air department that some politicial forces are still fighting to eliminate in more recent news

Old is new again.. and again... and again. 


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Daily wonk

So two things others have recently put out there worth looking at the Pittsburgh angle.

From Aaron Renn, check out his map of the BEA's cost of living adjusted personal income data by MSA. A good story for Pittsburgh that rarely is distilled down enough for media coverage.

Some mention of the trove of data just released in the Census Bureau's latest American Housing Survey for the Pittsburgh region


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Labor force musings

Just a normalized look at some regional labor force trends over the last decade.


Monday, July 08, 2013

No comment


Sunday, July 07, 2013

North Dakota Express

Just reading/watching the news of the rail accident in Canada.  Makes me wonder how much oil freight passes through Pittsburgh these days.

and there is a Youtube video for everything these days......


Thursday, July 04, 2013

A people numerous and networked*

I try not to comment on much beyond the rivers, but it is remarkable to watch the news in Egypt.  Confusing and contradictory for sure, but if anyone thinks our own history is any less so probably has some reading to catch up on. Did the American Revolution end anytime before 1865? Is it over now?

Egypt is a truly fascinating place for those who have been there.  One of the earlier posts here was about a faraway Egyptian blogger with the nom de plume Sandmonkey.  Since then the blogger has revealed himself as one Mahmoud Salem, been beaten, was jailed, communicated a revolution, ran as a candidate for parliment and continues as an international speaker, even venturing some more pure wonkdom of late.  He was even mentioned locally in the Trib the other day. [5+ years after mentioned here first! :-)]  Impressive since I don't think many of us here are about to be randomly quoted in the Caireen press anytime soon.

It all puts in perspective so many of our tempests and what free speech really means. With the limited exception of the unsung Grantstreet99, I don't think any of us has been pursued by the law in any comparable way... and with a bit of poetic justice it is GS99's tormenter under house arrest of late.

So for July 4th it may be worth pondering how much some risk daring to read, think, speak, and write (and occassionally blog)**.

* Apologies to John Shy.

**  ditto John Adams.


Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Reading the long tail of Pittsburgh news (so you don't have to)

Catching up on much reading I missed over last week.  Each of the following is a news story unto itself:

Missed this last week, but the BLS quarterly look at county wages again has Washington County, PA as one of the fastest wage growers in the nation (see Table B per that link).  I hear folks say this is all a shale story.  Part of it certainly is, but I've looked at this and Washington County has had one of the nation's fastest wage growth rates over much of the last decade, long before the shale play was even imagined. A lot of it is a broader Southpointe-generated growth, and rural to suburban transformation as population has been growing for some time now.

Something else I missed via PBS:The Best Cities for Boomers to Pre-Retire. I really only have one question... when exactly does pre-retirement really begin? But note this list has us.. #1. Bold added for assignment editors. Isn't there some local law that says any #1 ranking makes the evening news? Curiously, a qualitative version of the same story in a sense was datelined in Chicago even though it is about some denizens of Mount Lebanon: These women will try retirement 'Golden Girls' style.

Back to shale.  Just thought this interesting reading from the new long form site Quartz: That US natural-gas manufacturing boom? It’s happening in Mexico. Remember it was just a few weeks ago that the backwater of a banking firm Morgan Stanley found the shale-induced manufacturing revival to be lacking. MS: US Manufacturing Renaissance: Is It a Masterpiece or a (Head) Fake?(April 29)

The Cleveland Plain Dealer has a full writeup on a new Lincoln Institute report on legacy cities that inevitably talks a lot about Pittsburgh.  You can find it all via their coverage: A tough-love report from the Lincoln Institute ranks Cleveland 15th on list of 18 'legacy cities'. A side, but important, note.  The author there, Alan Mallach, was born in Pittsburgh and in a professional sense is our grandfather here.  Aubrey Mallach was a local population wonk long long before most of us were around and certainly before anyone every came up with the term wonk. See just some of his seminal work from the 1940s here. We (the region) were once way ahead of our time.

On Cleveland.. I know the local coverage of the unemployment rate drop (and employment increase) yesterday was kind of dour, the version from Cleveland is far worse: Greater Cleveland lost more jobs than any metro area in the country (poll).

Again, just ICYMI.  Landscape Architecture Magazine has: Welcome to Frackville.

MIT Tech review has this... no Pittsburgh mention, which is noteworthy in itself: In Innovation Quest, Regions Seek Critical Mass.

Ho no, just say no to calling it the FroYo class. (with apologies to MsMon... and of course Mike) What, exactly, is it about news coverage of retail desserts in this town? Note that Dozens in Oakland has again re-closed recently (this time with much less news coverage than previous openings/closings) so maybe we have finally gotten over our sugar angst? Note that Cleveland's pastryati is trained in Pittsburgh and catching up fast of late anyway.

Something that was in the news here and just too much much of a straight line to really do justice with. I had long wondered whether the Pittsburgh Parking Authority knew how many meters it had out there. But the story is really missing the forest for the trees. Beyond the accounting issues it raises, there is this little matter of occupational safety embedded in this frightening sentence: "a parts warehouse was emptied on an emergency basis after part of the pile fell on an employee and the contractor was given the scrap as pay for removal."  So where was the story of the poor guy buried in parking meters?  Those things are heavy! I think OSHA has to be involved in this story if it was true. Local OSHA office: (412) 395-4903.


Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Pittsburgh MSA unemployment down 2/10ths

The latest labor force data for the Pittsburgh region is out.  May 2013 = 6.9% unemployment, down 2/10ths from April. It is now 79 months since the region's unemployment rate was higher than the national unemployment rate. I was watching the recent trend toward convergence over the last year, but last few months some indication of a turnaround. Still one of the more important things to watch because the relative unemployment rate difference is a decent predictor of domestic migration at the metropolitan level.  Here is an updated graphic I watch:


Monday, July 01, 2013

Don't Worry, Be Happy.... and the Pirates are on top.

....  still remains an interesting statistical question just how different this is from random variation in the different time series over the years.  Flip a coin enough times and every now and then you get a lengthy string of heads. Still, entering some rarefied times for the Pirates. No doubt this is all better than the 17.5 games they were behind on July 1, 2001 during PNC Park's first season of use. Nobody ever gave a timeframe for how long was needed for the new stadium to produce a winner.

For the hard core stats geeks out there. Is this a question for a Wald-Wolfowitz test?