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Westmoreland income figures show county's aging base

| Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017, 11:00 p.m.

Murrysville has one of the highest median household incomes in the region, and that allows it to keep improving the facilities and amenities that attract higher-income residents, Chief Administrator James Morrison said.

“We're certainly fortunate that the community is able to support high wage earners,” he said.

At the other end of the spectrum, Arnold seems trapped in a loop where low incomes keep out businesses that would provide jobs that would raise incomes.

“It does affect us ­— we don't have any draw for work,” said Mayor Karen Peconi. “You don't have any people that want to move in here.”

Averaged over the 2012 to 2016 period, Murrysville's median household income was $90,643, about 3.5 times that of Arnold's median household income of $25,599, according to Census Bureau figures released Thursday.

The figures show that most Westmoreland County municipalities tend to have more households receiving Social Security and retirement income and fewer households receiving wage, salary or self-employment income.

That same patterns show up throughout the Midwest, said William H. Frey, a senior fellow and demographer at the Brookings Institution.

“There's a large part of the country that's getting older,” he said.

While the Baby Boom generation is still young enough to take care of itself, it is entering a period in which it will need more public services, and that's going to be a problem for areas like Westmoreland County, he said.

“If you don't have a growing labor force, that's a problem,” he said. “Those programs are going to be increasingly important.”

The income figures reflect the aging population and the increasing number of households that rely on Social Security, said Chris Briem, a regional economist with the University of Pittsburgh.

“Social Security sort of gets you above poverty, but it doesn't get you that far above poverty,” he said.

While Allegheny and some other counties in the region have seen a recent influx of younger people, that trend hasn't generally extended far into Westmoreland County, he said.

Even in Murrysville, 40 percent of households received Social Security and 24 percent received retirement income, versus 30 percent and 18 percent nationally.

That reflects the municipality's ability to retain higher-income residents even after they retire, Morrison said.

“People have the wherewithal to relocate somewhere else, and they decide to stay here,” he said.

Murrysville invests more than $3 million annually in capital improvements and is continually looking for ways to improve residents' quality of life, he said.

“We have a high number of professionals here, quality housing stock, recreational opportunities,” Morrison said.

It helps that the community abuts the county line, he said.

“If you're looking to get out of paying real estate taxes in Allegheny County, Murrysville is the place to look,” he said.

Jim Smith, president and CEO of Economic Growth Connection of Westmoreland, said economic development and success can vary across Western Pennsylvania for many reasons.

He said two of the biggest challenges are having a qualified workforce for the jobs available and an aging population that is leaving the workforce and not being replaced by younger people moving to the area.

“We've got to find ways to bring people in,” Smith said, “to try and sort of supplement the natural evolution of the population.”

Smith said the western half of Westmoreland County tends to do better in things that require a denser population, like services and financial professions. The north and eastern parts of the county have more manufacturing businesses.

Emily Balser and Brian Bowling are Tribune-Review staff writers. Reach Balser at 724-226-4680 or emilybalser@tribweb.com. Reach Bowling at 724-850-1218 or bbowling@tribweb.com.

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