Westmoreland County population decrease largest in Pa.
The reality of Westmoreland County’s shrinking population was brought to fruition this week after the U.S. Census Bureau released data showing the county had the largest population decrease in the state.
Since 2010, the county has lost over 14,580 people, averaging a decrease of about 1,815 people per year, data shows. Cambria, Erie and Schuylkill counties follow, ranging between about 11,950 and 6,150 people.
Allegheny County, however, saw the largest decrease of people between 2017 and 2018 in the state, with a decrease of about 2,200 people. Westmoreland County wasn’t far behind with about 2,015 residents lost between the years.
Westmoreland County Commissioners recognized the problem last October when they released Reimagining Our Westmoreland, a plan aimed at making the county attractive to young professionals and families.
But county businesses could still feel the impact of the declining population, with about 70% of the regional economy based around providing goods and services to area residents, said Christopher Briem, regional economist at the University of Pittsburgh who studies demographic trends. Shrinking businesses could lead to blighted buildings and residents moving away, he said.
To help combat that, local organizations are banding together to complete beautification projects like a new amphitheater and houses in Jeannette, said Mandy Zalich, CEO of Westmoreland Community Action, a nonprofit aimed at fighting poverty in the county.
“We are so involved in a lot of the economic growth projects happening in different pockets of the county,” Zalich said.
With enough organizations, Zalich predicts a ripple effect happening that will help to “facilitate and foster” new projects, and, in turn, attract new residents to the area.
The other goal is to take advantage of already existing resources, like colleges and universities that bring young people to the area. Working with school officials to conduct activities in the community can help keep that population here, Zalich said.
Organizations are also working with area high schools to promote trade schools and to teach guidance counselors about already existing jobs in the area students could secure right out of high school.
The other problem for the county, commissioners identified in their plan, is an aging population.
According to census data, Westmoreland County had the highest number of natural losses, or deaths, between 2010 and 2018, amounting to about 11,210 people. Luzerne County followed, losing about 6,870 naturally.
Philadelphia County, the most populous county in the state, saw an increase of about 65,930 people through births between 2010 and 2018, followed by Lancaster County with about 17,750 births.
Zalich hopes that connecting youth with older generations will “put that value back into that population.”
Megan Tomasic is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 724-850-1203, [email protected] or via Twitter .