Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Net Inmigration Pittsburgh

Update: In a subsequent repost, turns out that Pittsburgh did have net domestic inmigration in 1990-91. Let's just call it a 100-year flood for now.

I've been tracking all the US Census stories populating the Google news feed today. A business rag out of Buffalo provides a drop down menu for the 2000-2009 data. Net domestic outmigration is common for US cities. Pittsburgh is in good company. However, Pittsburgh is an outlier concerning natural decline. Not many cities have more people dying than being born. The bottom line is that Pittsburgh is shrinking.

I was wondering when Chris Briem would chime in with the Pittsburgh tale of the tape. Earlier than I expected:

There was one year around 1990-1991 when there was a net migration into the region overall... but overall migration includes international immigration which by construct is almost always a net positive for the region. But in terms of gaining more people than losing from elsewhere within the nation, you really have to go back much of a century to find a period when that has been true.

Almost 100 years of outmigration has come to an end, at least for now. Add to that the good news about Morgantown:

“Migration has always been the primary driver of population growth in these counties,” said Dr. Christiadi, a demographer at West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research. “Migration into Berkeley and Jefferson counties has slowed considerably due to the recession occurring in the Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia economies. On the other hand, migration into Monongalia County remained strong in 2009. Albeit slowing, the county still saw a solid job growth of around 1.5 percent in 2009, and at the same time student enrollment into West Virginia University remained strong. These two reasons are why Monongalia County drew more migrants, allowing it to outpace population growth in Berkeley and Jefferson counties.”

For those of you not familiar with the economic geography of SW Pennsylvania, Morgantown orbits Pittsburgh. There is a contiguous stretch of vitality from Cranberry (home to Westinghouse's nuclear complex) all the way to West Virginia's booming college town. Not only that, the worm has turned at a most curious time. We spent all of 2009 in recession. Not your typical Rust Belt tale.

Most of these big cities, having been built on rivers or lakes, lie at the edge of states: think Chicago, St. Louis, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Detroit, Milwaukee. But state capitals, sited in days of poor roads and hard travel, usually lie in the center of states. Some state capitals – Columbus, Indianapolis, Des Moines – were never industrial centers but thrive now. But non-capitals, by and large, are suffering. No surprise: the capitals and non-capitals are where they are for totally different reasons – one political, the other economic – and never really had much to do with each other.

The state capitals aren't really Rust Belt cities. They never were. If you compare Pittsburgh to its like economic urban centers, then it really stands out as a strong performer and a unique redevelopment story. One can't overstate the tradition of outmigration. And don't forget the legacy of the early 80s exodus, which informs today's remarkable natural decline. Other cities tend to offset net domestic outmigration with relatively robust birth rates and immigration.

Think about a growing Pittsburgh population thanks to domestic inmigration. In my mind, that would complete the economic transformation started some 50-years ago. Pittsburgh has a new set of mesofacts.

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