Monday, June 21, 2010

Pittsburgh Population Forecast

Pittsburgh is shrinking. That's been the headline for decades. But the city hasn't given up hope of turning that around. Today's Post-Gazette highlights prospects for growth:

In a projection used by Mr. Briem, known as the Pittsburgh REMI model, the county shows modest population gains over the next decade but sharper ones in the 2020s, to gain nearly 200,000 residents over the next two decades. That would mark quite a change from having lost some 410,000 over the past five decades.

A private consulting service, Woods & Poole Economics Inc., forecasts slimmer growth in the next decade and the same pace thereafter, for a gain of less than 17,000 by 2030.

And the Pennsylvania State Data Center sees more long-term decline instead of growth, having predicted in 2008 that Allegheny County would have about 85,000 fewer residents in 2030 than it does now.

Sue Copella, director of the data center, said that gloomy forecast is driven largely by the negative history of recent decades. Rather than guess at future influences on population, the data center leans on a demographic theory that whatever's been happening will keep happening.

Mr. Briem said economic factors play a key part in the Pittsburgh REMI projection and some of the region's recent hardships were so severe that it wouldn't make sense to project them as being duplicated in the future.

The most pessimistic forecast is a good baseline for analysis. It describes the impact of Pittsburgh's Great Recession, way back in 1981. The most recent Brookings MetroMonitor looks at the last four economic recessions for America's 100 biggest cities. Almost 80% of the metros are at their nadir for the last 30-years. The exceptions:

In parts of the Northeast, the eastern Great Lakes, Texas and nearby states, and several high technology centers, earlier recessions had more severe impacts on employment after two years than did the Great Recession. In parts of the eastern Great Lakes and Texas and nearby states, the 1981 recession was the most severe of the last four recessions in its impact on employment after eight quarters. In much of the Northeast the 1990 recession was the most severe. In the information technology centers of Boston, San Jose, Austin, and Dallas, the 2001 recession was most severe.

Pittsburgh already experienced its Great Reset, suggesting that the region is primed to take advantage of the current economic upheaval. Compared to the rest of the country, Pittsburgh is experiencing a period of unprecedented prosperity. This tidbit is driving Briem's projection. A new dominant demographic influence is in play.

The drag on this optimism is the opaque near-term. The entire world is busy reshuffling the deck. The old rules might not apply. For example, geographic mobility might remain gummed up with bad mortgages or Americans could emerge as more risk averse concerning relocation. In other words, people won't move to Pittsburgh in search of jobs because they are stuck in place.

I feel comfortable with the conclusion that Pittsburgh has turned the corner and will increasingly distance itself from the legacy of the early 80s exodus. In fact, I predict that the turnaround will seem quite dramatic over the next year or two. New headlines will scream talent shortage as more businesses seek access to one of the most educated workforces in the country.

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