Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Craddle To Grave Rust Belt

The Rust Belt is full of shrinking cities. The most common reason for the decline is out-migration. People must work and the jobs are elsewhere. There was an exodus, but that's not the issue now. The Industrial Heartland is where the most inert Americans reside. It is also home to the smallest numbers of foreign born:

However, in certain areas of the country, the number of people who hail from abroad is astonishingly low. In Pittsburgh, for example, a city as well known in the 20th century for its Polish-, English-, Italian- and Irish-born communities as for its steel mills, only 3.1% of the population is foreign born, the lowest of the 40 metro areas measured here.

Cincinnati, Ohio, St. Louis, Mo., Indianapolis, Ind., and Cleveland, Ohio, round out the top five.

Why are there so few immigrants residing in Pittsburgh? Chris Briem points his finger at the glut of talent:

Christopher Briem, a professor at University of Pittsburgh who studies the history of migration in the city, as well as its current and historic demographics, says that despite the fact that the fall of Pittsburgh steel industry happened over 20 years ago, there is still a "labor overhang." In laymen's terms, there are too many people for too few jobs.

"Any demand in the region has been internally displaced," says Briem. "The number of colleges is disproportionate to a region our size." (The estimated population of Pittsburgh's metropolitan statistical area is 2.3 million for 2007, down 15% from 2.7 million 1970.)

While Pittsburgh produces plenty of skilled graduates--some of whom have traveled from as far as India and China to attend the city's world-class colleges, including Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pittsburgh--the job market, which today primarily consists of health care and technology positions, simply isn't big enough to provide work for all qualified candidates.

I'm taking liberties with Mr. Briem's explanation. Forbes Magazine states the common thread linking all the cities is a lack of job opportunities. Obviously, that situation exists in Pittsburgh. Job growth would seem to be a strong predictor of immigration destination. But the direction of causality is still a mystery.

I think the problem (if you see it in that light) is that too few people leave cities such as Pittsburgh. I've come to this conclusion looking at out-migration rates and average wages. The people currently living in the Rust Belt aren't inclined to leave, even if the pay is much better elsewhere. This reinforces the prevailing parochial attitude and makes these shrinking cities even less attractive to newcomers. Chain in-migration has been effectively destroyed.

If Pittsburgh wants more foreign born to live there, then the region must export more of its locally cultivated talent.

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