Needed: Extra Individuals – Pittsburgh Quarterly

Southwest Pennsylvania stumbled into it People need again in 2020. It was another year of more deaths than births and the number of newcomers unable to keep up with the number of residents who were moving elsewhere.

The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to extend the already long chances of a rapid upswing in the region’s population. The dire toll from COVID threatens to reduce natural population losses. And reducing losses by attracting new residents is something that southwest Pennsylvania has eluded for years and is now tougher as Americans slow down from region to region.

It is too early to know how the pandemic will affect the direction of the population in the area. However, deeply ingrained, pre-pandemic trends in aging and migration suggest that avoiding another population decline will be a struggle long after the coronavirus is tackled.

Expensive trend

According to an analysis by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, no major US metropolitan area has lost more people, and more consistently than the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) with seven counties, which has lost more than 400,000 people since 1969.

But lately the region has had company. The U.S. population as a whole hit a wall in 2019 when the census estimates it grew only 0.48 percent from 2018. This was the lowest rate since 1918, when the nation was at war and struggling with the Spanish pandemic flu. And it’s possible that the growth over the past decade was rated as the lowest since the first census in 1790.

Looking at how the pandemic might affect them, US population growth declined even further from July 2019 to July 2020. This period spanned three months during which the country was struck by the virus. “It’s the first time in a year that we’ve seen a bit of the pandemic [of census data]”Said William Frey, demographer and senior fellow of the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program.” Whatever happened before July probably cut immigration a little more and increased mortality a little more, and it will be for next year give much more. “

Southwest Pennsylvania’s long familiarity with population loss was costly, causing the region to drop from the 9th most populous metropolitan area in the country to the 27th. And there is a lot at stake. A regional economy is its population. The population shapes the markets for goods and services and the vitality of the workforce. It decides the number of seats in Congress that will be awarded to states and the number of votes of the electoral college they will cast. It determines the percentage of federal tax dollars that counties pay for health care, schools, transportation, and other livelihoods that Americans count on.

For these and other reasons, business development agencies and officials have continued the frustrating search for ways to reverse the region’s chronic population losses over decades. You shouldn’t expect to take a break anytime soon.

Natural deficit

Southwest Pennsylvania is still grappling with a demographic phenomenon that has kept its population lower than a generation lower. More people die each year than the seven-county MSA born in Pittsburgh. This makes it the only subway area in the United States that has experienced natural population loss.

More births than deaths once fueled population growth. However, that changed in the 1980s with the collapse of the steel industry, which was the bedrock of the local economy. Nearly 150,000 manufacturing jobs were lost, and the ensuing exodus cost the region 8 percent of the population from 1980 to 1990. Most of those who left the country were young people looking for jobs that were no longer available at home. And with them their future families went, leaving older adults behind and upset the age structure of the region.

Decades later, the growth in the number of native women of childbearing age is still well below the national rate. The birth rates are below the national average. The proportion of the population aged 65 and over is one of the highest in the nation, as is the number of deaths per 1,000 residents, according to census data.

The COVID toll threatens to temporarily increase natural population losses in the region. The virus claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 people in the Pittsburgh MSA in the first 10 months of the pandemic. Hope that the pandemic will lead to more births by forcing couples to spend more time at home is tempered by evidence that past recessions have not had that result.

And it will take a long time to derail the trends that are being driven by the region’s aging population. “Even if these shift a little, the demographics of the region are pretty strong,” said Chris Briem, regional economist at the University Center for Social and Urban Research at the University of Pittsburgh. “The range of possible results is pretty narrow.”

Glued in place

The influx of people from one region to another has not worked out well in southwest Pennsylvania, and it seems that this is not going to change anytime soon.

For just a brief moment, this century of southwest Pennsylvania attracted more people than it lost – a five-year span propelled by Briem 12 years ago with the natural gas production boom of Marcellus Shale. As these jobs slowed, the migration gains disappeared.

It remains to be seen whether the COVID-19 pandemic can draw more people to the region. Most people move between regions to find work opportunities. By the end of the year, however, the labor force in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area was shrinking more than the nationwide. Jobs were recovered more slowly. And PNC financial economists expect the region’s economy to recover more slowly than the country as a whole.

The virus and the social and business restrictions put in place to slow its spread have largely harmed the local economy and jobs across the country. For people in occupational areas that are hardest hit during the pandemic, there are hardly any job opportunities, which dampens the incentive to move.

“In the 1980s we had job destruction far beyond what was going on in other regions. For some people it just made sense to pick up and move around, ”said Briem. “The difference now is that if you are a waiter or a hotel worker these opportunities are being destroyed everywhere. There is no region that has survived so well. “

The Americans didn’t move much at first. U.S. migration fell to a 73-year low just before the pandemic, when only 9.3 percent of Americans moved between March 2019 and March 2020, census data shows. For comparison: In the ten years after the Second World War, around 20 percent of the population moved in one year.

The slowdown can be seen in all age groups. However, migration of young adults declined the most in the decade before the pandemic. And some large metropolitan areas, which had seen robust population growth at the beginning of the decade, ended up being the biggest losers, as the low level of migration there favored smaller towns.

According to Frey’s analysis of the US Census Bureau’s population estimates, no US subway area lost more residents than Pittsburgh from 2012 to 2015. Though the area’s population continued to slide, it abandoned this unwanted crown by the end of the decade, when New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Cleveland saw major losses.

The wild card in the pandemic is the increase in people doing their jobs remotely. This began when offices, schools, and other workplaces were closed or occupancy reduced to contain the outbreak. Almost a third of small and medium-sized businesses in southwest Pennsylvania adopted a work-from-home policy last year, a survey by PNC Financial Services found.

It is unclear how far remote work will be offered after the pandemic and whether workers given the opportunity will follow or break away from longstanding migration patterns. “Most people move to places nearby or larger,” said Briem. “You don’t see a lot of people moving from San Francisco to Pittsburgh the way some people think they are.”

Help from abroad

While migration from other parts of the country failed to boost the population of southwest Pennsylvania, immigration has consistently contributed to it. Yet less than 4 percent of the area’s population is overseas-born, one of the lowest rates among major US cities.

Its effects can be felt most strongly in the urban core of the region. Nearly 80 percent of the area’s foreign-born residents live in Allegheny County or the city of Pittsburgh. They are especially important to local universities, where they add to enrollment and the bottom line. As Briem said: “The influx of international students is a non-trivial part of the population here.”

And immigrants tend to bring more to the table than themselves. “Immigration affects the age structure,” said Frey. “Immigrants and their children are younger than the general population. One way to empower your younger population is through immigration. You will come here and have children. “

However, the prospects of increasing the flow of immigrants to the region are currently facing strong headwinds. The pandemic resulted in travel restrictions and the closure or removal of colleges – circumstances that are expected to further reduce immigration.

More restrictive US immigration policies in recent years had already greatly reduced the number of people from other countries settling in America. Frey pointed out that the nation barely added 200,000 people to its foreign-born population in 2018 and 2019. By the beginning of the decade, the nation’s foreign-born population had grown by 400,000 to 1 million people a year.

As a result, immigration gains over the past decade are expected to be the lowest since 1970, although they come at a time of economic expansion when there are more jobs. “We have to be serious and think about what levels of immigration we should have in the United States and how this can help us be a more productive country,” Frey said. “If we don’t do that, we will have an aging population. In 10 years’ time, most baby boomers will be retiring and we will have to rely on a smaller younger generation to keep things going. ”

Comments are closed.