Meadows goes green for the environment
In one recent week, 35 residents of the Mid-Mon Valley passed away, ranging in age up to 99 years.
The Valley Independent also carried nine obituaries of other, mostly older residents who moved, died and were laid to rest elsewhere.
It was not a particularly unusual week. Similar numbers of obituaries have been appearing week after week for too many weeks, resulting in another unfortunate development.
That is, the deaths of so many elderly residents are disproportionate to the number of births and new people moving into most communities here, emphasizing “most” but not all, thereby contributing to population loss.
The data was gathered from latest U.S. Census Bureau reports and similar reliable sources.
It was compared to figures published in this newspaper nearly two years ago, when a group of articles confirmed that the 40 communities between Brownsville and Elizabeth were collectively growing smaller, older and poorer than most people thought.
Mid-Mon Valley's population that stood at 117,660 in 1990 had fallen to 109,723 in 2009, when the articles were written.
Latest available statistics put the total population at 107,144, a more alarming drop of 2.3 percent over a comparatively short period of time.
Among 26 of the 40 municipalities where the population dropped, Donora, Charleroi, Monessen, Monongahela and Brownsville were big losers again.
They're seen as “Rust Belt” towns that have fallen out of favor largely because of old-style housing and dwindling commerce, although, to their credit, significant numbers of downtown businesses have hung in there, especially in Charleroi and Monongahela.
Monessen was down by 375 people to 7,720. While still the largest city in the Mid-Mon Valley, its population is only one-third of the 1940s and 1950s, when steel mills boomed.
Not surprisingly, most growth continued in several townships and California, Pa., up nearly 10 percent to 6,805, where an expanded, modernized California University of Pennsylvania is the catalyst.
Carroll Township increased by 454 people to 5,939, Elizabeth Township by 249 people to 13,271 and Fallowfield Township by 246 people to 4,461.
While Rostraver, the Valley's second largest township, experienced a drop of 313 over the past two years, it has nevertheless retained a robust population of 11,363.
Reasons for the Valley's overall population drain remain pretty much unchanged.
Not enough young people choose to keep living here, especially college graduates. Few well-paying manufacturing jobs are left. Even fewer opportunities exist for the placement and advancement of professionals. Overall birth rates are down. More people remain single in today's society.
Despite affordable housing and moderate taxes when compared to other places, not enough new people are moving in to replace those passing away or leaving. Proof lies in vacant buildings and “For Sale” signs, not the result of mortgage foreclosures but an absence of buyers.
Former residents return home for weddings, funerals, reunions and holidays. Then they leave again for places with better-paying jobs, better schools, safe streets and capable political leadership.
Sorry for the doom and gloom.
Some good things are happening. For example, 60 continuous miles of the Mon/Fayette Expressway are now open. A $26 million renovation of the Charleroi-Monessen (Tener) Bridge will be completed by June.
Marcellus Shale is bringing in new jobs, helping make Washington County the fourth-largest growing county in the U.S. The old Allenport Mill may become home to a new business employing about 400.
It's important to keep calling attention to the declining population of the Mid-Mon Valley in the hope that more people who still live here will do more to stop it.
Don't abandon ship yet.
Thought du jour - The best way to predict the future is to help create it.
Joe Grata is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media