Pittsburgh region's population decline continues, Census shows
Only a few municipalities, largely located along the Allegheny-Butler County line, are growing amid the Pittsburgh region's overall population decline.
But officials and experts cautioned against reading too much into the newest Census figures released this week, which estimate the 2016 populations for municipalities across the nation.
"Ten-year Census data, yeah, that's enough time to see a shift in the trend," said Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission models and data manager Chuck Imbrogno. "Even five years might give you a sense. But year to year, it's a lot of static, a lot of noise."
Still the most recent figures show the vast majority of the region's townships, cities and boroughs are following a decades-old regional population decline. Pittsburgh, the region's largest municipality, lost 239 residents last year, dropping to a population of 303,625, according to census estimates. Westmoreland County's largest municipalities – Hempfield and North Huntingdon townships – fared similarly, losing about 60 residents each to drop their populations to 41,335 and 30,681, respectively.
Tim McNulty, spokesman for Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, said the numbers are "statistically meaningless" and no indication that the city is sliding back to the days when people left the city in droves for better jobs. He added Peduto is concentrating on economic development initiatives designed to create jobs in poverty-stricken neighborhoods, and criticized the Trump administration for its stance on immigration
"It's far less than 1 percent of the city's population," he said of the Census estimates for Pittsburgh's decline. "Even though these numbers precede the Trump administration, efforts to crack down on immigration and visas certainly aren't going to help us grow."
Ryan Fonzi, North Huntingdon's associate planning director, pointed to well-known issues in Westmoreland County – an aging population and the migration of high school graduates – as possible factors in the township's population loss. Still, the decrease surprised him.
"We've had several new housing developments built over the last 10 to 15 years," he said. "We're still doing better than most, I think."
The Pittsburgh metropolitan area was home to 2.65 million people in 1980, according to Census data. The Census Bureau's 2016 estimates suggest the population today is 2.3 million people. Of the 47 metropolitan statistical areas in the nation with at least 1 million people, Pittsburgh was one of eight that had more deaths than births last year.
Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland counties all lost residents between 2015 and 2016. Butler County, home to some of the region's only growing municipalities, bucked the trend.
Cranberry Township, population 30,739, gained nearly 300 residents between 2015 and 2016, and more than 2,600 residents since 2010, according to Census estimates. Officials there could not be reached for comment.
Adams Township to the east gained nearly 1,900 residents since 2010, including about 340 last year. Census estimates put its 2016 population at roughly 13,500.
Imbrogno said several factors have long attracted growth to such "hot spots" in the region, including strong school systems, the presence of business parks that provide jobs, and good transportation options that allows residents to reach jobs in other parts of the region.
South of the county line, Marshall Township experienced some of the strongest growth of any Allegheny County municipality. Between 2010 and 2016, its population grew by more than 27 percent to 8,823. That growth includes adding 224 residents between 2015 and 2016.
Penn Hills, Mt. Lebanon, Shaler and McKeesport each lost more than 150 residents since 2015, and more than 450 since 2010, according to Census data.
Penn Hills' loss was the most significant. The township population has dropped by 774 people since 2010, include a 341-person loss since 2015. Penn Hills officials could not be reached for comment.
In Westmoreland, every municipality except for Manor Borough, which gained 24 residents, lost population between 2015 and 2016, according to Census estimates.
Brian Lawrence, deputy director of the Westmoreland County Department of Planning and Development, cautioned that Census estimates are hard to judge for accuracy and said the margins of error for such data can have a significant impact on smaller communities.
Census officials said margins of error are not used with the bureau's population estimates.
Bob Bauder contributed to this report. Michael Walton is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-1290, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @WaltonReporting.