Pittsburgh region's population loss slows slightly in 10 years

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Little Aleppo boomed. Hulking Pittsburgh limped on. And the region as a whole couldn't quite claim that it has reversed course.

A half-century of population loss for the region, most of its counties, and the city of Pittsburgh didn't end in the last decade, according to data from the 2010 census released Wednesday. That didn't prevent some officials from saying they saw signs of a turnaround in the numbers.

The seven-county metropolitan area lost 74,802 people from 2000 to 2010, landing at 2,356,285, and reflecting a slightly slowed pace of decline. The 3.1 percent dip in population is a little better than the average loss of 3.5 percent over the prior four censuses.

Butler and Washington counties continued to grow. And while Allegheny County lost 58,318 residents over the course of a decade, or 4.6 percent of its total, year-by-year estimates released on Monday suggested it may have bottomed out in 2008, picking up some 2,000 people since then.

The data are a "very strong indication that things are starting to turn around" for the region, said Jim Futrell, vice president of market research for the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, citing strong numbers from those three counties.

He said the region appears to be "finally working the trauma of the 1980s out of the system."

The region, though, lags behind the state as a whole, which grew by 3.4 percent, buoyed by a surge in the Hispanic population. While this region's Hispanic population nearly doubled, it did so from such a low base, reaching just 1.3 percent of the total, that it could not offset overall losses.

The surge in Hispanic population statewide, to 5.7 percent of the total, helped buoy other municipalities. Philadelphia eked out a 0.6 percent gain in population, ending 50 years of shrinkage.

"We're basically talking about a story of a state that, half the state had a pretty good decade, and the other half had not," said William H. Frey, senior fellow and demographer with the Brookings Institution, a think tank.

Eastern growth and western losses will likely further this region's political decline, as maps of state House and Senate districts, plus congressional districts, are redrawn in a Republican-controlled process.

In some areas, leaders took some comfort from signs of stabilization.

Westmoreland County's population dipped just a little more than 1 percent.

"That loss is not to be celebrated," said Jason Rigone, deputy director of the Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corp., "but it is not surprising."

Little Aleppo, in the Ohio River valley, grew by 84 percent, to 1,916 people. Adams, Ohio Township, and Pine posted gains of 50 percent or more, as did the city's Strip District, which saw its population nearly double. Other big gainers were Collier, North Strabane, California, Peters, Richland and Cranberry.

Butler County gained 9,779 residents, or 5.6 percent.

"We do see a lot of reasons for people to come here, to live, to work, and to do business," said Ken Raybuck, executive director of the Community Development Corp. of Butler County. "There are some signs, too, that Butler has done better than average on [increasing] wages."

Washington County grew by 4,923 people, or 2.43 percent.

But losing more than one in six of their residents were McKeesport, Aliquippa, Clairton, Verona, Duquesne, North Braddock, Braddock and Youngwood. So did a large number of city neighborhoods, though Pittsburgh's overall loss was just 8.6 percent of its population, or slightly less than the 9.5 percent decline of the previous decade.

Among counties, Fayette County was the biggest loser, shedding 8.1 percent of its residents or 12,038 people.

Fayette has lost many of its traditional jobs in mining and manufacturing, but it remains too far away to attract commuters who work in Pittsburgh but live elsewhere, said Chris Briem, of the University of Pittsburgh's University Center for Social and Urban Research.

Beaver County lost almost 11,000 people between 2000 and 2010. "That's not good," said Beaver County Commissioner Charles A. Camp.

But an estimate released Monday suggested that Beaver saw a tiny gain of 159 residents from mid-2009 through mid-2010. Some of the people who left 20 or 30 years ago in search of work now are returning for their retirement years, Mr. Camp said.

Allegheny County spokesman Kevin Evanto also found some small positive news in his county's overall decline. "Since the 1980s our region has bled population," Mr. Evanto said. "We have slowed the exodus."

Mr. Futrell said stability during the economic downturn helped to stabilize the population because residents had no reason to leave for opportunity elsewhere.

He said recent census surveys indicate that the area's elderly population is shrinking while other groups, including young college graduates, have stabilized or grown in size. Much of the outmigration in recent years, he said, seems to be among less educated people.

The city of Pittsburgh's population of 305,704 was slightly lower than estimates the Census Bureau put out last year. Mr. Briem said the numbers suggest that Pittsburghers are leaving the city but remaining in the region.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's spokeswoman, Joanna Doven, cited statistics showing that Pittsburgh experienced more births than deaths the past three years, and she noted that a study by Brookings showed that Pittsburgh is attracting more college graduates and adults in their 20s.

"We believe that we have reversed the brain drain and are now experiencing brain gain," she said.

That seemed to bear out in census data showing growth in the South Side Flats, Oakland and the North Shore. Big losses persisted, though, in Garfield, Homewood and Larimer.

Pittsburgh Councilman Ricky Burgess, who represents those areas, said he believes the East End communities have declined in virtually every way, including population and income loss, during the past decade. He said the city must marshal resources to rebuild the East End.

The city of Pittsburgh became more diverse. Both of the city's largest racial groupings -- white and black -- lost numbers, and became smaller portions of the overall population.

Pittsburgh's black population declined from 90,750 to 79,710, and went from 27 percent of the city to 26 percent. The portion of the population that is white went from 68 percent to 66 percent. Partly offsetting declines in those groups were increases of around 50 percent in both the city's Asian population, now 4.4 percent of its total, and the population of people who report being more than one race, now 2.5 percent of city residents.

Hispanics, counted separately from the racial groupings, were 2.3 percent of the city population.

Whites remain the majority in nearly every municipality in the region, the exceptions being Rankin, Braddock, Wilkinsburg, Homestead, Duquesne and East Pittsburgh.

Some of those same municipalities suffer from a plague of empty homes. The census found that the vacancy rates in Rankin were 13 percent, Braddock, 24 percent, Wilkinsburg, 19 percent, Homestead, 22 percent, Duquesne, 21 percent, East Pittsburgh, 21 percent, North Braddock, 22 percent, Aliquippa, 18 percent and Clairton, 20 percent. In Pittsburgh, 13 percent of houses were vacant.

Politically, the numbers aren't a plus. The state has to cut one of its 19 U.S. House districts next year and four of the five districts with the lowest population numbers statewide are in the west, including those represented by Reps. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, Mark Critz, D-Johnstown, Mike Kelly, R-Butler, and Jason Altmire, D-McCandless.

Republican leaders in control of the process have said they may not redraw the congressional lines until the fall but it is a good bet one of those Democrats will be without a district next year.

Correction/Clarification: (Published March 11, 2011) Some housing vacancy rates were mischaracterized Thursday in a story about the 2010 census. The rates are: Braddock, 24 percent; Homestead, 22 percent; North Braddock, 22 percent; Duquesne, 21 percent; East Pittsburgh, 21 percent; Clairton, 20 percent; Wilkinsburg, 19 percent; Aliquippa, 18 percent; Rankin, 13 percent; and Pittsburgh, 13 percent.

Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542. Joe Smydo: jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548. Len Barcousky: lbarcousky@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1159.


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