Regional Insights: What can keep people from leaving Pittsburgh?
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The latest Census population estimates indicate that the Pittsburgh Region continued to lose population in 2007. Does this mean people are fleeing the region?
Although it's true that about 6,000 more people move out than move in each year, our rate of net domestic out-migration in 2007 was actually lower than 16 of the top 40 regions, including Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Diego and Silicon Valley. What really hurts us is that we're the only major region in the country that has more deaths than births.
Underneath the net migration numbers is a significant amount of inflow and outflow. About 35,000 to 45,000 people move into the Pittsburgh metro area from outside Pennsylvania each year (either from elsewhere in the country or overseas), so in any given year, between 1.5 percent to 2 percent of our population is new to the region and the state. Although that's a large number, it's one of the smallest percentages among the top 40 regions.
Who are these people? The Census Bureau's American Community Survey tells us a number of interesting things about them. (It should be noted that since these statistics are based on surveys, they are subject to some degree of error.)
First of all, they are predominantly young. Of the 30,000 to 35,000 people who move here each year from another state, more than half are under 30 years of age.
In fact, we rank in the top five regions in terms of the percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds among people who move here from another state. That's a clear indication that our colleges and universities are major magnets for in-migration.
In contrast, our greatest weakness is attracting people 30 to 40 years old. We rank near the bottom among the top 40 regions in the percentage of U.S. in-migrants who are in that age group.
How about international immigrants? In the past Pittsburgh ranked dead last in the rate of international immigration, but that may be starting to change. While still very low, in the past few years the rate has increased significantly and has moved ahead of places such as Cincinnati, Cleveland and St. Louis. We also have one of the highest rates of growth in our foreign-born population among major regions. That's because we're starting with such a small base (we have the smallest proportion of foreign-born people among the top 40 regions) that even our low rate of immigration increases our foreign-born population significantly.
The international immigrants we do attract are much better educated than the immigrants to other regions -- more than 60 percent of our international immigrants who are age 25 or older have a bachelor's degree or higher, the highest percentage among the top 40 regions. Our universities, hospitals and research centers probably play a major role in this.
Attracting more international immigrants is just one of our diversity challenges. Not only do we have the smallest percentage of foreign-born residents, but we also are the whitest of the top 40 regions of the country -- 89 percent of the people in the Pittsburgh MSA are white, whereas in most of the major regions, at most 70 percent are white.
While the people moving here are more diverse than our current population -- about 20 percent of the U.S. residents moving to our region from out of state are nonwhite -- they are still less diverse than the migrants to other regions (in most regions, 30 percent or more of the domestic in-migrants are nonwhite).
Clearly, we need to attract more people to the region if we're going to reverse our population decline and provide the work force our employers need. Although our current rate of in-migration is still too low, at least it's moving us in the right direction -- attracting young people, highly educated individuals and a somewhat more diverse population than we have today.
Our challenge is to make them feel welcome and to provide the job opportunities they need to stay and build roots here. If we succeed in that, it will help to attract even more people in the future.
First Published April 13, 2008 12:00 am