Census estimates released today show the 1980s are still shaping Pittsburgh's future, but new industries and an increase in college- educated people eventually could reverse the area's population decline, experts said.
Chris Briem, a regional economist at the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Social and Urban Research, said the seven- county region lost between 50,000 and 60,000 people a year -- mostly working-age adults and their children -- in the mid-1980s. A quarter- century later, relatively few of them have returned, he said.
Consequently, Pittsburgh is the only metro area among the 50 largest that has more deaths than births.
"The elderly aren't having kids, but they are dying," Briem said.
Pittsburgh's metro area includes Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland counties.
Today's population estimates show that metropolitan Pittsburgh lost about 7,500 people between July 1, 2006, and July 1, 2007. The region had the ninth-lowest birth rate at 10.2 births per 1,000 people, and the 19th-highest death rate at 11.8 deaths per 1,000 people.
Briem said demographic forecasts for Pittsburgh predict the population decline is coming to an end.
"It's going to level off in the next couple of years," he said.
The area's population is moving closer to the national average when it comes to age groups, which means it eventually will start producing more births than deaths, he said. The forecasts project slow growth for the area after it makes that turn, Briem said.
Harold Miller, a consultant and adjunct professor at Carnegie Mellon University's Heinz School of Public Policy and Management, agreed that the estimates show Pittsburgh is still in the grips of the local collapse of the steel industry two decades ago, but they hide a more vital question of which people the area is losing now.
Other numbers show the current out-migration is mainly recent retirees moving to Florida and other sunny locations, Miller said. …