Experts dispute census find of 1% fewer births in Western Pa.
By Brian Bowling
Published: Thursday, March 14, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Western Pennsylvania families welcomed an estimated 323 fewer babies in 2012 than in 2011, according to Census Bureau figures released on Thursday, but a local obstetrician questions the estimate.
“Over the last decade, I see women delaying childbirth to a later age, but overall, I see births increasing,” said Dr. Deborah Whiteside, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Magee-Womens Hospital in Oakland and Womancare Associates.
The Census Bureau released its annual population estimates, which show the 10-county region lost about 590 people between July 1, 2011, and July 1, 2012. The official population estimate for the 10 counties in 2012 is 2,577,497 people.
Allegheny, Butler and Washington counties gained population, while Armstrong, Beaver, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Lawrence and Westmoreland counties lost population.
The 10 counties around Pittsburgh had 25,645 births between July 1, 2011, and July 1, 2012, according to census figures. That's about a 1 percent decrease from July 1, 2010, to July 1, 2011.
Nationally, the number of births dropped by about 0.6 percent, according to the estimates.
Deliveries at Magee increased by 393, or about 4 percent, for a total of 10,438 deliveries in 2012, according to figures provided by UPMC spokeswoman Courtney McCrimmon.
Whiteside said the number of deliveries she's seeing at Magee and in her practice trended upward in the past couple of years despite a sluggish economy.
“Having babies always seems to be popular,” she said.
Chris Briem, a regional economist at the University of Pittsburgh, said fluctuation in the birth and death numbers is common, and it's possible to read too much into a single year's estimates.
For about the past five years, one factor driving population growth in the Pittsburgh area was that it did relatively well compared with other metro areas during the recession. The new estimates suggest fewer people are moving to Western Pennsylvania as the economy improves elsewhere, but the region still had a net gain of 753 people from domestic migration.
“Just the fact that it's positive for a region that had sustained decades of loss is significant,” Briem said. Given the improvement in the economy, “it sort of makes sense that it moderated a little bit.”
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said the census figures support anecdotal evidence and studies by the Brookings Institution and other analysts that Allegheny County is attracting younger adults.
“I don't see (population changes) going negative anytime soon,” Fitzgerald said. “I think we have turned a corner.”
Ken Rayburn, executive director of the Community Development Corp. of Butler County, said he was surprised to hear that Butler County's growth in 2012 was less than half the growth it saw in 2011.
Butler County businesses “are looking for people and still growing, coming out of the recession,” Rayburn said.
Westmoreland County Commissioner Tyler Courtney said the loss of major employers such as Westinghouse, West Penn Power and Sony helps explain his county's loss of population, but gaining Spirit Airlines as a carrier at the Latrobe airport and the opening of Aquion Energy are signs of turnaround.
“We have a lot of promising opportunities,” Courtney said.
The Pittsburgh metropolitan area, which consists of Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland counties, remained the 22nd-largest metropolitan area in the country.
The next two largest metro areas, Charlotte and Portland, Ore., are growing fast enough to pass Pittsburgh in the next two to three years, according to the estimates.
The Census Bureau uses births, deaths, administrative records and survey data to produce the estimates for the 3,143 counties or county equivalents, such as parishes, in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Brian Bowling is a staff writer for TribTotal Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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