Gary Rotstein's The Morning File: Lovers of Pittsburgh, unite (and multiply)
April 6, 2014 11:02 PM
Let the bald eagles of Hays be an inspiration to couples all over the region.
By Gary Rotstein / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
If you're reading this in the Pittsburgh area, it's time for you to put down the newspaper or laptop, get into the bedroom (or on the kitchen table, or wherever floats your boat) and start working at having more babies.
Well, not everyone -- it's probably not a good idea if you're in the target Morning File demographic between ages 62-82 (a readership we covet because they generally don't threaten to cancel their subscriptions, which would require too much phone patience).
But even those older readers should go to their children or grandchildren, if they live around here, to say, "Look, you need to start having kids -- or have more kids, if you already have some. You get to have sex in the process, which can be fun, and the result would be good for the whole region."
It's the recent census data on Pittsburgh's population which has us venturing into this frank discussion of the birds and bees, a topic usually better left to conversations in schoolyards than in family newspapers. After a couple years of meager population growth in the region that nonetheless represented more of a turnaround from the norm than even last year's Pirates season, the seven-county metropolitan area was again estimated to have lost people between 2012 and 2013.
The decrease was not much -- a siphoning of 122 people from a base of nearly 2.4 million. That's the equivalent of 20,000 cars being backed up headed into the Fort Pitt Tunnel in the morning in 2012, and then one fewer motorist showing up each day in 2013. The difference is imperceptible, unless the absent one is that driver at the front of the line who's first to slow to 10 mph entering the tunnel, thus backing everyone else up for hours.
But we're basically spinning our wheels at zero population growth while the rest of the country keeps moving ahead, although there's some cognitive dissonance when you call a local doctor's office and discover so many people are already scheduled that you can't be seen for two months. I always say something like, "Surely one of those people ahead of me is about to die or move to Charlotte in the upcoming weeks -- couldn't you just give me his or her slot?" Hasn't worked yet.
The region's failure to grow was previously all about the tens of thousands of Pittsburghers driving away from Western Pennsylvania with tears in their eyes but prospects of fatter wallets elsewhere. We put Detroit and Cleveland to shame in terms of desperate Rust Belt exoduses of the late 20th century.
That's no longer the case. More people come to the metro area than leave it every year now -- especially those "durned furriners," who may look and sound different but happen generally to be among the most educated and skilled residents of our region, unlike immigrants in much of the country.
If not for these international newcomers, half of them holding college degrees, we'd be in greater danger of backsliding on population.
Today's problem with our lack of growth stems from too few babies being born to keep up with the old-timers taking that last, long step into the great beyond, and it is a rare equation for a city of Pittsburgh's size.
Demographer Chris Briem of the University of Pittsburgh noted on his blog "Null Space" recently that of the nation's 40 largest metropolitan areas, Pittsburgh was the only one to have more deaths than births between 2012 and 2013. It's not a new phenomenon -- we began experiencing this net natural decline in the mid-1990s, from being left with a population heavily skewed toward the elderly and away from those of child-bearing years.
In the Minneapolis region, there were 23,722 more births than deaths between 2012 and 2013. Around Pittsburgh, 3,132 more people died than showed up in maternity wards.
The point here isn't to highlight yet again how exceptional Pittsburgh is compared to everywhere else -- we've got plenty enough other examples of that, including more people who return lost wallets and purses than anywhere, if this newspaper's Random Acts of Kindness column is any indication.
No, the message is to take a cue from the eagles in Hays who understand all about what's needed for population growth, though we're not saying that like them you ought to have three babies all at once.
But there are worse ways of spending time than in such efforts as procreation, so please, for the good of everyone -- and to quote someone more worldly and famous -- be fruitful and multiply. Just don't die trying.
Gary Rotstein: email@example.com or 412-263-1255.
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