Pittsburgh’s Dramatic Population Changes

Member Group : Allegheny Institute

(June 2, 2016)–Pittsburgh’s population has undergone remarkable changes since 2000 including a nearly ten percent drop in resident count. It is important to note however that the rate of decline has slowed markedly over the last five years from the pace experienced between the Census counts of 2000 and 2010. And the recent rate is a far cry from the plunging rates of earlier decades that saw the City’s population drop from 677,000 in 1950 to 370,000 in 1990, an average loss of 7,675 people per year. From 1990 to 2010, the losses slowed to 3,200 per year.

Since 2000 the City’s resident count fell from 334,563 to 305,740 in 2010 with a further small dip to 304,390 in 2015. Over the last five years the yearly average decline fell to just 262. Still, it is astonishing to consider that while the City’s population has fallen by 55 percent since the 1950 Census, the U.S. population has doubled to 321.8 million, pushing the City from 9th to the 59th largest in the country.

But more interesting than the significant decline in the population count since 2000 is what has been happening to the age distribution of the population. Census data and the statistics from the American Fact Finder web site reveal major changes in age distribution between and 2000 and 2010 and further changes from 2010 to 2014 (2015 age group details are not yet available).

To begin, there is a quick summary of the major changes with a detailed discussion of the statistics to follow. The summary looks only at the overall changes between 2000 and 2014. Population data by age are available in five year groupings starting at birth.

There are six distinct developments regarding changes in the age distribution of Pittsburgh’s population since 2000. First, the number of 0 to 19 years olds fell by 15,600 with every five year age group in that age range having a lower count in 2014 than in 2000 and was a major factor in the overall population decline. This age group’s share of total population slid from 23.6 to 21.5 percent. Within this group, the 31 percent decline in school age population was even more dramatic with losses of over 1,000 per year.

Second, the population aged 35 to 49 has been in free fall since 2000 dropping by 21,190 residents (a 30 percent decline), causing the age group share of total population to plummet from 20.7 to 15.7 percent. The 50 to 54 age range resident count in 2014 was virtually unchanged from the 2000 level.

Third, the group aged 65 to 84 saw its number fall sharply, declining by 13,600 or 28 percent and its share of population slide from 14.3 to 11.2 percent. Overall, the groups losing population and population share saw their resident count drop by 50,400.

On the other hand there were age groups posting gains since the overall population loss was only 28,800 over the 14 year period. Three age brackets posted substantial population increases. First and largest was the 20 to 34 age range that grew by 11,444 people. Note that 90 percent of that rise occurred over the four years 2010 to 2014. This recent rapid growth boosted the age group’s share of population from 24.2 percent in 2000 to 31 percent in 2014.

Second, the age group 55 to 64 resident count moved upward quickly, gaining 9,059 people or 34 percent while boosting its share of population from eight to 11.7 percent, a stunning 46 percent rise in share—the most dramatic share change of any of the age groups reviewed.

Third, the over 85 age group climbed by 1,074, raising its population share from 2.1 to 2.7 percent.

From this brief overview, it is clear that dramatic changes in the age makeup of Pittsburgh’s population are underway with very important implications for the City’s economy and social structure.

In the following discussion, more details of the changes outlined in the summary are presented. The statistics for population and share changes by age group are shown in the following table.

Age Range
Population Data 0 to 19 5 to 17 20 to 34 35 to 54 55 to 64 65 to 84 85 and over
Population change, 2000 to 2010 -11,699 -10,900 639 -12,749 5,657 -11,161 759
Population change, 2010 to 2014 -3,900 -4,296 10,805 -8,486 3,402 -2,407 315
Share, 2000 (%) 23.6 14.1 24.2 25.5 8.0 14.3 2.1
Share, 2010 (%) 22.7 12.4 27.5 24.6 10.6 12.0 2.6
Share, 2014 (%) 21.5 11.0 31.0 21.8 11.7 11.2 2.7

First, note the drop in the population of school aged (5 to 17 years) children and their share of total population. The share of total population for this group dipped from 14.1 to 12.4 percent between 2000 and 2010 as the number of school age fell by just under 11,000. The slide continued over the next four years dropping by 4,300 pushing the population share to 11 percent. This is clearly an unwelcome development for City school enrollment that currently captures barely three quarters of the school age population in the Pittsburgh District.

For all children, including preschool and teens through age 19, the City saw a decrease of 15,599 residents between 2000 and 2014, with the major part of the drop occurring in the number of 5 to 9 year olds (down 6,150) and in 10 to 14 year olds (down 5,747). The 0 to 5 and 15 to 19 age groups registered more moderate dips of around 2,000 each over the 14 year period. Overall, the 0 to 19 year group’s share of City residents fell from 23.6 to 21.5 percent.

Other groups also posted substantial population declines. Most worrisome from an economic stability point of view is the plunge in the 35 to 54 age bracket. Residents in this age grouping plummeted by 12,749 in the ten years following 2000 and dropped another 8,486 in 2010 to 2014 period for a stunning total decline of 21,235—or 24 percent. The share of Pittsburgh’s population fell from 25.5 to 21.8 percent. Unfortunately, the 35 to 54 age population that had fallen by nearly 1,300 residents per year from 2000 to 2010 accelerated to losses of 2,200 a year through 2014.

Then too, the 65 to 84 age group population has tumbled thus far in the 21st century plummeting from 47,835 at the beginning of the decade to 36,684 in 2010 and four years letter had slipped to 34,277, a total drop of 13,568. Its share of population slid from 14.3 percent in 2000 to 11.2 percent in 2014. Note however that the 65 to 69 group was fairly flat over the 14 years dipping by only 513 residents.

As noted earlier not all age groups have lost population. Two have posted sizable gains; the 20 to 34 and the 55 to 64 groups. The 20 to 34 age bracket grew by 11,444 over the 14 year period (83,430 to 94,874), a 14 percent jump with the bulk of the surge coming in the form of a 7,270 pickup (28 percent) in 25 to 29 year old residents. Between 2000 and 2010 growth for the 20 to 34 bracket was a modest 600 owing to a 3,800 decline in the 30 to 34 group which was reversed with rise of 4,500 over the next four years. The age bracket share of population climbed from 24 to 30 percent.

Equally notable, the 55 to 64 group registered a strong gain climbing from 26,748 in 2000 to 32,405 in 2010 and rising further to 35,807 in 2014 for a total increase of 9,059. This 34 percent rise boosted the age bracket’s share of population by 46 percent from 8.0 to 11.7 percent.

Finally, the over 85 population has grown, rising from 7,189 to 8263 through 2014, a gain of 1,074. A small numeric gain but it is a 15 percent rise resulting in a bump from 2.1 to 2.7 percent of the population.

In total, the growing age groups added 21,600 residents offsetting a fairly sizable portion of the 50,400 losses in the age groups that experienced decreases. And as result of the gains and losses by the different age groups there was a major shift in age distribution. The losing age groups saw their combined population share drop from 65 percent to 54.5 percent while the growing age groups’ share climbed from 35 to 45.5 percent.

It is important to note the differences in age distribution with the national figures. There are four key differences commented on here. First, the school age population in Pittsburgh amounts to 11 percent of the population while nationally the share is just over 17 percent. That is an enormous 55 percent differential. Second, the age group 20 to 34 accounts for 31 percent of Pittsburgh’s population compared to a national share for this group of only 20.6 percent—a very large and growing gap. Third, the share of 35 to 54 bracket in Pittsburgh stood at 21.8 percent (and falling) in 2014 compared to a 27.1 percent share in the U.S.

Finally, for the older age group the shares in Pittsburgh and the nation are fairly close. For the 55 to 64 range, Pittsburgh, thanks to rapid gains in recent years, had an 11. 3 percent share, the U.S. was at 12.3 percent. And for the 65 to 84 category Pittsburgh was at 11.2, the nation at 11.9 percent.

Fundamental structural population changes are underway. The drop in school age children and the large decline in the 35 to 54 age group might reasonably be linked to the search for better schools outside the City. A trend that will continue unless the schools get better or the millennials start having many more children and staying in the City. Whether the spectacular gains in the 20 to 29 age range can continue is a big question. And will the departure of so many people in the family rearing and career advancement ages of 35 to 54 slow or cease?

Jake Haulk, Ph.D., President

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