Census shows population decline in Pittsburgh region
March 24, 2016 12:08 AM
Since 2010, the Pittsburgh metropolitan area has been surpassed in population by Charlotte, N.C.; Portland, Ore.; Orlando, Fla.; and San Antonio. The new figure knocks Pittsburgh down to the nation’s 26th-largest region from 22nd.
By Gary Rotstein / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Here’s a new slogan for local civic boosters to consider: “Pittsburgh: The Greatest Place that Doesn’t Grow.”
It seems apt as ever, based on new U.S. Census Bureau estimates posted today. Among the nation’s 30 largest metropolitan areas, Pittsburgh is the only one deemed to have fewer people on July 1, 2015, than were counted during the official 2010 census. The region is estimated to have lost 5,051 people last year and 3,240 overall since the official count, despite small gains from 2010-12.
That news might be a head-scratcher to some people — it certainly was to Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald — who have a hard time meshing it with what they see of Downtown commercial development, East End residential construction, trendy restaurant proliferation and never-ending rankings of how ideal Pittsburgh is.
But the new estimates based on births, deaths and relocation data contain plenty of information that could be construed negatively, such as:
• Since 2010, the metro area has been surpassed in population (2,353,045 locally on July 1) by Charlotte, N.C.; Portland, Ore.; Orlando, Fla.; and San Antonio. The leapfrogging knocks Pittsburgh down to the nation’s 26th-largest region from 22nd.
PG graphic: Region’s population drain resumes (Click image for larger version)
• After seven straight years in which more people moved into the region than out of it, the net migration pattern reversed course, with 2,520 more people leaving than coming between 2014 and 2015.
• Though Allegheny County had 7,111 more people living in it in 2015 than 2010, the trend for the region’s population center was in the wrong direction for the second straight year. It suffered a reported annual drop of 2,437 after shrinking by 918 people between 2013 and 2014.
• The trend is worse in Westmoreland County, which lost an estimated 1,397 people last year and 7,213 since 2010. Without it, the region would have shown a small increase in population from 2010-15 instead of a small decline.
Mr. Fitzgerald is no fan of the estimates process, which the census bureau acknowledges is subject to error. Each year it revises previously reported numbers, such as to now list the region’s population on July 1, 2014, as 2,128 higher than it estimated a year ago.
“It’ll be interesting to see when the actual census count comes out at the end of the decade how we’ve done,” he said after being told of the county’s 2015 drop. “Anecdotally, I’m really surprised at the numbers, because they don’t really reflect what seems to be happening in the market. We had $3 billion in new construction in 2015, half of which is residential, and it looks like we’re on pace to do about the same in 2016.”
Among the seven counties, only Butler (+432) and Washington (+86) saw small population increases in 2014-15. Those two also had overall population increases since 2010, as did Allegheny.
All of the counties have more deaths than births occurring annually, which is unusual for a metropolitan area — though not as extraordinary in the Rust Belt as elsewhere. If local population is to increase overall, strong migration into the region must offset those natural losses. That occurred for several years during and after the Great Recession as Pittsburgh’s economy outperformed the nation’s so well, but other metropolitan areas have recently been adding jobs at a better rate.
“Since 2012 Pittsburgh has been pretty much stalled out in terms of job creation, adding a couple thousand jobs year over year,” said Kurt Rankin, vice president and regional economist of PNC Financial Services Group. “Without new jobs being added to attract new residents, there’s going to be a disconnect between Pittsburgh’s ability to do well with what it has and its potential to expand to new heights.”
He noted that some of the recent population loss could be explained by the falloff in Marcellus Shale gas production, which has cost the region about 3,000 jobs that existed a few years ago.
Despite such reversals, Mr. Fitzgerald doesn’t accept population figures as the most important indicator of the region’s health, even if every public official wants his tenure marked by growth instead of decline.
“You’ve got to remember there was a 30-year period of out-migration, and you don’t turn that ship around in a quick period of time,” he said. “The bigger thing to me is to make sure we have a good quality of life and good economic opportunities for people, and I think we do. I would put this place up against anybody as far as quality of life and being a great place to raise a family.”
Gary Rotstein: email@example.com or 412-263-1255.
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