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Pittsburgh region’s population is slowly dying off |

Pittsburgh region’s population is slowly dying off

Bob Bauder
| Thursday, March 22, 2018 1:45 a.m
Pittsburgh was the only metro area with more than 1 million people that had more deaths than births in 2017.
Bob Bauder | Tribune-Review
Cousins Lois Smolovitz (L) and Ruth Fineberg have lived in Pittsburgh their entire lives and have no plans to move. “I don’t know anything else,” Fineberg said.

As it has for the past three decades, the Pittsburgh region saw more deaths than births in 2017, according to Census Bureau figures.

The region’s population declined by 0.4 percent from 2016, leaving it with an estimated 2017 total of 2,333,367 people, according to Census figures. Allegheny County saw a similar decline to end up with a 2017 estimate of 1,223,048 people. Westmoreland County saw a 0.6 percent drop that left it with an estimated 352,627 people in 2017.

Deaths started outnumbering births during the collapse of the local steel industry in the 1980s, when young adults left the area in search of work and raised their families in other parts of the country.

Projections a decade or so ago predicted that the trend eventually would bottom out and reverse, but national trends make that unlikely, said Chris Briem, a University of Pittsburgh economist.

“The bottom line: I don’t think the region as a whole is going to see (a reversal),” he said. “The U.S. is getting older and having fewer kids.”

In other words, “other parts of the country are going to catch up to us” instead of the other way around, Briem said.

Pittsburgh was the only metro area with more than 1 million people that saw more deaths than births in 2017.

That makes growing the city tough, Mayor Bill Peduto said.

“We lost two generations throughout the ’80s and the ’90s, and we’re still making up for that,” the mayor said.

The answer is jobs that attract people to the region, he said.

“If we have more jobs we have more people,” Peduto said. “We saw the largest amount of investment in technology last year than this city has ever seen. We have been able to increase the value of permits for construction within the city from about $200 million in 2013 to over a billion last year.

“It will take a little bit of time to make up the population loss that we saw for the last 50 years, but we are on an upward trend, and with more jobs will come more people,” he said.

The city and some surrounding municipalities have become younger because of migration, and that’s the way the region could grow, Briem said.

“No one should be planning on (births) being a generator of population growth for the region,” he said.

The region lost about 4,300 people, out of 2.3 million, to migration in 2017, according to the Census figures. That’s the result of gaining about 4,400 people from international migration and losing about 8,600 people to other parts of the country.

Allegheny County saw the same trend, with two people moving to somewhere else in the United States for every person who moved into the county from overseas.

Westmoreland County lost about 10 people to domestic migration for every person it attracted from overseas.

The county has fluctuated between net migration gains and losses for several years, said Chad Amond, president of the Westmoreland County Chamber of Commerce.

“We’ve been watching the demographics for a number of years, and that’s part of the things we’re working into the comprehensive plan,” he said.

For the county to grow, it has to overcome its natural loss in population, he said.

“Every year since 2001, we’ve been losing about 1,000 people net, just given births and deaths,” Amond said.

The focus of the comprehensive plan is to attract millennials by emphasizing the county’s position between the urban amenities of Pittsburgh and the natural amenities of the Laurel Highlands, he said.

“We have the ability to get into the city of Pittsburgh in an easy way, but we can also go hiking in the Laurel Highlands,” Amond said.

Another emphasis is on the number of walkable communities in the county, he said.

“We are seeing that the millennials want more of that lifestyle,” he said.

Staff writer Bob Bauder contributed to this report. Brian Bowling is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-1218, or via Twitter @TribBrian.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff reporter. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, or via Twitter .

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