Friday, April 10, 2009

More Rust Belt Migration Tales

If you take a gander at the county level migration data for 2000-2005, then you'll see with your own eyes how short of a distance most relocation is. The perception of the population shift from the Frost Belt to the Sun Belt is exaggerated. The move to big city includes anti-climatic destinations such as Chicago, Boston, and Minneapolis. Bill Toland ponders the economic sunshine of Pittsburgh:

That doesn't mean those leaving the Sun Belt will end up in Pittsburgh, obviously. But perhaps we can reverse the flow of regional outmigration. For every worker we've lost to sexy spots like Austin or North Carolina over the last 20 years, we've lost two to Washington, D.C., or Philadelphia. We lose just as many workers to Columbus as we do to Atlanta. Not everybody leaves for sunnier climes; many just left for sunnier job prospects, and the closer, the better.

And in many of these cities -- this year, anyway -- unemployment is higher than it is in Pittsburgh, and homes are more expensive than they are in Pittsburgh. As job prospects shrink over the next nine months, the intra-regional churn figures to grow. And maybe Pittsburgh has a chance at winning, even if, in the end, it's a zero-sum game for the Rust Belt at large.

Maybe we'll never get the droves of grads and job-seekers to leave the warmth of Atlanta for Pittsburgh. But if you can take the sunshine out of the equation, it might be an easier sell. People living in Chicago and Cleveland, after all, already own a winter coat. One less thing to worry about, ya know?

Another aspect Rust Belt cynics overlook is the out-migration from Sun Belt metros. 4-times as many migrants leave Los Angeles County than Allegheny County for Fulton County (Atlanta). The problem for Pittsburgh is that it isn't on the mental map of boomtown talent. The exception to that trend is, of course, the Burgh Diaspora.

Of course, I'd be shocked if Pittsburgh or any other Rust Belt city aggressively courted in-migration as zealously as it obsesses out-migration. If there is a talent shortage, then local wages sure don't reflect it. Like most things in Pittsburgh, current levels of in-migration are good enough.

No comments: