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Incomes grow as Pittsburgh’s population shrinks, PEW analysis finds

Tribune-Review
| Thursday, December 13, 2018 11:00 a.m
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Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Electrical engineer for RE² Robotics, Joe Elzer uses a pair of robotic arms at RE² office in Lawrenceville, Friday, Oct. 27, 2017.

Pittsburgh’s population is shrinking, but folks who still live in metro area are making more money, on average, according to a recent analysis by The PEW Charitable Trust .

The study suggested that Pittsburgh and a handful of other cities — Buffalo and Utica, New York; Providence, Rhode Island; Springfield, Massachusetts, and Gulf Coast cities such as New Orleans and Beaumont, Texas — where population is on the decline but per-capita income is trending up question the long-held theory that more people and more jobs means a better economy.

“Some of these metro areas have high-paying jobs in energy, health care or education. Others have managed to reshape their manufacturing legacies for a new economy. All of them are evidence that despite conventional wisdom, cities don’t necessarily need population growth and more jobs to be economically healthy,” the study stated.

The analysis had no comments from anyone from Pittsburgh. It also didn’t mention the growing concerns of inequality some in the city have and worries that the Pittsburgh’s tech economy is leaving people behind.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and others have stressed creating a Pittsburgh for all and making sure economic advancements in the city benefit everyone.

Pittsburgh’s poverty rate was 11 percent in 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, a few ticks higher than 2016 when it was 10.8 percent and lower than the national rate of 12.3 percent. Poverty rates in the city have dropped since the highs seen during the recent recession but have not returned to pre-recession lows.

The PEW study looked at income per-capita and population trends since 2000. Pittsburgh saw a 4 percent population decrease between 2000 and 2016 suggesting the metro area lost about 95,000 people. But between 2000 and 2017, Pittsburgh’s per-capita income rose 24 percent to $53,849, according to U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis statistics used by PEW.

“The story in Pittsburgh is very positive, and other metro areas are looking to it as an example of the transformation that might be possible,” Guhan Venkatu, who wrote an economic history of the area called “Rust and Renewal” for the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, said in the study.

The analysis mentioned that Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pittsburgh have helped grow Pittsburgh’s tech economy through startup incubators that keep graduates local as they start companies instead of running off to Silicon Valley and San Francisco. It noted that Pittsburgh has more science, technology, engineering and math-related jobs than other shrinking cities and jobs manufacturing high-tech medical devices have doubled over the last 10 years.

Jobs in natural gas and fracking were the “final piece of the puzzle,” the study said.

“What makes places different is, do they still have manufacturing? Do they still have [energy] extraction?” Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, said in the study. “Those are the things that tend to hold up over time.”

Aaron Aupperlee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Aaron at 412-336-8448, aaupperlee@tribweb.com or via Twitter @tinynotebook.

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