When people leave the Pittsburgh area, where do they go?
And where do those new people come from?
Click on the link below the map to view a larger pdf version of the maps adapted from "Migration Trends in the Pittsburgh Region," a new report from the University Center for Social and Urban Research at the University of Pittsburgh. The complete report is on the Publications section of www.ucsur.pitt.edu.
Click image above to view the full version of the info graphic in .pdf format.
It is hard to imagine there is any other region in the United States that obsesses over population loss and migration as much as Pittsburgh. That people move out of Pittsburgh really isn't news. That we take it so personally whenever we learn of someone leaving town borders on one of the region's core values.
What we seem to forget is that even as many leave, each year thousands of new Pittsburghers arrive here and begin to reshape the region.
Is the Pittsburgh region's population loss excessive? Certainly not compared with where we have been. Twenty-five years ago, the compounded job destruction here eliminated the economic opportunities here for much of a generation. The rational choice for many was to leave, and leave they did.
Net loss of population due to migration exceeded 50,000 people a year across the Pittsburgh region in the early 1980s. That exodus was concentrated among the region's youngest workers, which exacerbated the impact on the region. Those young workers took with them their not only their skills but their families, and their future families which otherwise would have stayed and grown here, a legacy that impacts our population trends to this day.
Today, net migration from the region is a small fraction of that rate: It's closer to 5,000 people per year.
Even that number does not reflect the fundamentally different circumstances of today. A higher proportion of current migration is made up of older retirees moving toward more temperate climes, a pattern that does not have the same long-term impact as the loss of younger families.
The slow population loss due to migration does not begin to reflect the changes going on in the region. Roughly 100,000 people move into or out of the Pittsburgh region each year. Thousands more move within Southwestern Pennsylvania annually.
Both of these numbers dwarf the net migration number, which is usually the only statistic that makes it into the news. These flows of people moving in and out are a major force reshaping our local communities.
Even if the flow of migrants moving into a community balances those leaving, the change that is taking place can be startling.
Why do people move? There is no single answer.
The American work force is one of the most mobile on the planet. Workers young and old find that their skills match best to jobs located across the country. Some of those jobs bring people to Pittsburgh, others require them to leave. Many move, either for the season or permanently, when they retire. Students are likely to move both as they enter college or graduate school and then again when they graduate.
All of these factors affect every region in the country and Pittsburgh is no exception.
Is the pattern of migration from the Pittsburgh area atypicial?
The fact is that large metro regions nearest to Pittsburgh are the source of the largest migration flows is surprising only in its consistency.
It was well over a century ago that British economist Edward Ravenstein noted that most migrations were short distances, with proportionally fewer people moving longer distances. That observation could explain much the pattern of migration from Pittsburgh today.
Many are surprised to learn that our largest competitors for people are not concentrated in the fastest growing regions, but actually Philadelphia, New York and Washington, D.C.
Within the region, the movement of population is reshaping the region. The continuing movement of population away from urban cores is true for regions across the country. Suburbanization and exurbanization is a trend almost everywhere. Allegheny County has long been the concentration of population and employment in Southwestern Pennsylvania. That it bears the brunt of population loss as residents move ever farther out is almost unavoidable.
Yet even though more people leave Allegheny County each year than arrive, there are still thousands who move into the county from the suburbs each year. It is not a one-way flow
The movement of population within the region has its consequences as well. New infrastructure is needed even as regional population is stagnant. Jobs are not moving out from the core at the same rate as residents showing that workers are willing to endure ever-longer commutes. Today, thousands travel into the region daily from Ohio, West Virginia and beyond.
Take all of these factors together and individual communities are growing or declining at rates far different from the regional average. Communities that are gateways for new residents, or attractive to residents moving within the region are growing almost as fast as possible. Likewise we have to deal with many local municipalities which are experiencing ongoing rates of decline far higher than the region as a whole.
Migration matters -- but maybe not in the way we think it does.
Many want to subsume all that they think is bad about the region into each story we hear about someone leaving town. At the same time, we don't notice our new neighbors arriving every day.
Overall migration flows are built upon thousands of individual decisions, each one based on different circumstances and choices. The overall migration rate does not necessarily say much about our relative quality of life -- nor our prospects for growth in the future.
The despondency we exhibit when learning of yet another person leaving town has an odd corollary many know about. As any new resident to Pittsburgh will tell you, when the subject of where they are from comes up, there will always be a native Pittsburgher who asks incredulously "Why would you move here?" I bet they had a reason to come -- and I bet they have a reason to stay.
Migration to & from Allegheny County
Click image for larger version.
Christopher Briem ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) is a regional economist at University of Pittsburgh's Center for Social and Urban Research and the research director for the Pittsburgh Regional Indicators Project ( www.pittsburghtoday.org ). James Hilston is a Post-Gazette editorial artist email@example.com .