Allegheny Institute: Population Slide Continues in City and Region

Member Group : Allegheny Institute

The recently released 2008 population figures show the City of Pittsburgh posting a yearly loss of nearly 1,700 residents, continuing a trend that has been ongoing for several decades. City officials and apologists were heartened by the fact the drop was smaller than in previous years and all atwitter about how the City was finally nearing a turning point and that population growth is just around the corner—arguments they have made for years. What they need to do is to face up to the reasons people leave the City such as high taxes and a poorly performing school district and begin to make meaningful changes to stop the ongoing exodus.

For 2008 the City population estimate is placed at just over 310,000 residents. Since the 2000 census, the City has lost more than 24,500 residents. Excluding hurricane ravaged New Orleans; Pittsburgh’s decline was the fifth largest of any city having 100,000 people or more. And while other cities lost more people including Philadelphia, Cleveland, Chicago, and Detroit, only three suffered greater percentage declines over the last eight years than Pittsburgh (-7.3 percent) —Flint, MI (-9.6 percent), Cleveland (-9.2 percent) and Buffalo (-7.4 percent).

The Pittsburgh region did not fare much better than the City as the Metropolitan Statistical Area’s population fell by nearly 3,000 residents from 2007 to 2008. Among the counties that make up the MSA, Allegheny County suffered the greatest losses during the year (-3,300) while Butler (1,100) and Washington (975) picked up population.

Since 2000, the MSA has seen population fall by 79,900, almost 10,000 people per year. Allegheny County led the way with a decline of 66,500, over 8,000 per year. The only counties to gain population this decade have been Butler (8,800) and Washington (3,500). But their gains did not offset the losses from Allegheny County suggesting that most people leaving Allegheny County moved out of the region.

Over the next couple of years, the region might fare relatively better in terms of population losses given the weakness in the national economy and the lack of job growth in other regions and the real estate problems in states such as Florida and Arizona. However, the long term economic push-pull factors for interstate migration that created the decades- long pattern of net out-migration from western Pennsylvania are still in place. Once the recession ends, they will re-assert themselves and therefore it is likely the pace of population loss in the region will pickup again.

It is incumbent upon state and regional policy makers to move quickly to address the push factors that are driving people away. Namely, cut government spending, deal with the public sector pension plans that threaten the financial stability of school districts and municipalities, get rid of prevailing wage laws, and eliminate the right of public employees to strike. Common sense, needed reforms that if not carried out will once again hamstring growth and force folks to go elsewhere to find employment and careers.
Jake Haulk, Ph.D., President Frank Gamrat, Ph.D., Sr. Research Assoc.
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