Census estimate shows Pittsburgh population decreasing
May 21, 2015 12:00 AM
Pittsburgh's population stood at 305,412 last July 1, according to recently released estimates.
By Gary Rotstein / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The city of Pittsburgh lost 1,314 people in 2014 from the year before, a downturn after three straight years of small increases since the 2010 head count, according to new estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The city’s population stood at 305,412 last July 1, say the estimates being released publicly today for municipalities across America. That is lower than both the estimate for 2013 and the official decennial count of 305,704 in April 2010. It is also less than half the size of the city at its peak in 1950.
The most recent drop is not surprising, as data released earlier this year for Allegheny County showed an estimated loss of 1,698 people. Pittsburgh is by far the county’s largest municipality, and it would be atypical for it to gain while the county loses.
“You knew the city’s numbers would go down,” said Tim McNulty, a spokesman for Mayor Bill Peduto. “This is something that’s been going on for decades now, and we do see positive momentum.”
City population estimates provided between the census head counts are based largely on building permit reports, and the city is reporting a 30 percent increase in permit applications in the first quarter of 2015 compared with a year ago.
Mr. Peduto has set a goal of seeing the city’s population rise by 20,000 over the course of a decade. He and others point to new Downtown housing and the evident vibrancy of neighborhoods such as East Liberty and Lawrenceville as signs of the city’s success in being able to attract new residents.
The new estimates, however, show how tough it is to overcome a long-term trend of more people dying than giving birth and a low rate of international immigration compared with other cities. Mr. McNulty said an announcement is upcoming within weeks on the progress of the mayor’s Welcoming Pittsburgh initiative to woo more immigrants.
Chris Briem, a University of Pittsburgh economist and demographer who analyzes regional population trends, said, “There are parts of the city growing and changing and doing well — absolutely. But people forget that of 90 neighborhoods, there are a lot of them still suffering from trends of the past.”
He said the city has been growing its young adult population, in particular, because of the strength of its universities. “The question is how long they will stay, and whether they’re in it for the long run,” Mr. Briem said.
One ray of hope for the city is that the Census Bureau could be off in its estimates, underreporting the population as it now acknowledges it did a year ago, when it also showed a loss for Pittsburgh.
Initially, the city’s 2013 population estimate was 305,841, a loss of 348 from 2012. After receiving updated information on housing construction and conversions, the bureau now sets the 2013 number 885 higher, at 306,726. That figure represents a third consecutive year of small population growth instead of 2013 marking the start of a downturn.
Whether the true figure and change is up or down, Mr. Briem noted, “the bottom line is the city’s pretty close to net zero” when it comes to population change, which is better than the sustained losses of recent generations.
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