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Mon Valley population becoming smaller, older and poorer

| Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2011

Newly released U.S. Census Bureau data confirm what has been evident in the Mid-Mon Valley: It's growing smaller, older and poorer.

And the decline might be advancing faster than imagined.

The total population for 40 municipalities in the Mon River corridor spanning Brownsville to Elizabeth dropped six times as much as the 1.4 percent population loss for the Pittsburgh metro area from 1990 through 2009.

While Pennsylvania gained people during the same period, albeit modestly, the Valley dropped by 9,146, including 1,806 in Monessen alone.

Putting the number in perspective, the 9,146 loss is more than the combined population of the Valley's 17 smallest towns: North Charleroi, West Brownsville, Brownsville Township, Cokeburg, Roscoe, Sutersville, Long Branch, Newell, Smithton, Stockdale, Allenport, Fayette City, Beallsville, Dunlevy, Elco, Coal Center and Twilight.

"The statistics paint a very challenging situation, especially when we don't match up well against a state that already has the second oldest population in the nation," said Joe Kirk, executive director of the Mon Valley Progress Council. "We really need to step up efforts to find innovation solutions."

The Valley also has more people on welfare, more people on Social Security, more people 65 or older and more people with household incomes less than the Pennsylvania average.

Data for The Valley Independent's analysis was gleaned from the Census Bureau's recent American Community Survey, describing social, economic, housing and demographic characteristics for every municipality in the U.S. for the first time since the 2000 census, a separate activity.

More bad news is expected in February when federal officials announce local population numbers derived from the 2010 census.

While the survey showed some bright spots in the Mid-Mon Valley, most results provided further proof that a once-prosperous place with plentiful jobs has been falling deeper into an abyss.

The American Community Survey reported:

• Households in 33 of the 40 Mid-Mon Valley municipalities had median incomes less than the $49,737 average for the state. One-third of Fayette City's 438 residents lived at levels less than the poverty level last year.

• Another 33 of the 40 households exceeded the state average where at least one person was at least 65 years old. Senior citizens lived in nearly half of the households in Stockdale, Twilight and Belle Vernon.

• People in two out of every five Valley households received Social Security benefits. Elizabeth Township led the list in raw numbers, with 2,049 recipients. But as a percentage, at least half the households in Stockdale, Newell, Perryopolis and Dunlevy collected Social Security.

• The Mid-Mon Valley accounted for 1.2 percent of the state's welfare load, led by Monessen with 246 households. As a percentage, more than 10 percent of families in Brownsville, Brownsville Township, Jefferson Township and West Newton received public assistance.

The American Community Survey was based on sampling, interviews, aggregate data and other information obtained from 2005 through 2009, adjusted for inflation and then estimated in some categories.

It has cautioned that the smaller the municipality, the greater chance some sampling results may not be entirely on target.

In that respect, the Mid-Mon Valley is top-heavy with small communities. Fifteen municipalities had populations less than 1,000, compared to the Pennsylvania average of 5,150 people per subdivision of cities, boroughs, townships and home-rule communities.

Consequently, local governments do not have the tax base to provide basic municipal services or achieve economies of scale, according to Kirk, whose education credentials include a minor degree in sociology.

So why don't they get together?

"Mergers present a number of unknowns for local elected officials and can be considered a challenge to a local community's identity," Kirk said. "(But) a number of them have begun to work together" in areas such as police and a few other municipal services.

An example would be neighboring Roscoe, Elco, Allenport, Stockdale and Dunlevy, who formed "Five-Town" years ago and who have collaborated in a park, community activities, RESA police force and a "crime watch."

Nevertheless, they remain five separate local government entities. If they consolidated into a single municipal entity, the new population of 2,279 would still rank only 19th among municipalities in this Valley Independent report.

"Continued population losses combined with high rates of poverty and low median income point to issues of a declining tax base for local government," Kirk said. "This further supports the need to promote cooperative strategies."

The Progress Council itself has been impacted by business losses and talent drain - an exodus of the type of people who have provided leadership and vision.

But it continues to provide impetus for Valley officials to help themselves and to set the stage for a better future, along with such groups as the Mid-Mon Valley Industrial Development Association.

Through state Rep. Pete Daley, D-California, the Progress Council has secured money for a "Smart Government Initiative" to promote cooperative and regionally-based solutions to deliver municipal services.

In addition, with Kirk at the forefront, it has a decades-long history of aggressively advancing construction of the Mon/Fayette Expressway as a means of reversing declining population and income levels.

While 60 continuous miles soon will be open from Interstate 68 near Cheat Lake, W.Va., to Route 51 in Jefferson Hills, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Conmmission has stopped construction of the final links to Pittsburgh and Monroeville for the lack of money - $4 billion.

"The expressway is a crucial part of efforts to reverse declining population and income levels in the Mid-Mon Valley," Kirk said. "Improved access will attract firms, individuals and families here while providing regional access to employment centers throughout southwestern Pennsylvania."

Summary of Census Bureau data

A summary of the American Community Survey for the area follows, showing results of the analysis conducted by The Valley Independent:

AGING POPULATION

In raw numbers, Elizabeth Township had the most households (1,670) with one or more people age 65 years and over. It was followed by Monessen, 1,539; Rostraver, 1,520; South Huntingdon, 860; and Donora, 838.

However, as a percentage of households with senior citizens, Stockdale ranked first at 47 percent (116 of 247 households). It was followed by tiny Twilight, 46.6 percent; Belle Vernon, 44.4 percent; Newell, 41.9 percent; and Perryopolis borough, 40.8 percent. At 40.2 percent and 39.3 percent, respectively, Monongahela and Monessen barely missed making the "Top 5."

California (22.8 percent) had the lowest percentage of households with people 65 or older, likely because of the presence of California University of Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania average for households with persons 65 or older was 27 percent. Thirty-three Mon Valley municipalities exceeded the average.

SOCIAL SECURITY

At least one person in 19,197 of 47,176 households received Social Security, which is statistically equivalent to two out of every five households.

Elizabeth Township had the largest number of households with at least one Social Security recipient, 2,049, followed by Monessen, 1,744; Rostraver, 1,825; Donora, 1,048; and South Huntingdon, 1,026.

More than half the households in Stockdale had at least one Social Security recipient, leading the Mon Valley at 55.5 percent (137 out of 247 households). It was followed by Newell, 51.7 percent; Perryopolis, 51.0; Dunlevy, 50.0 percent; and Belle Vernon, 49.1 percent.

California, Coal Center and Long Branch all had fewer than 30 percent of households with Social Security recipients.

The Pennsylvania average for households where at least one person received Social Security was 31.2 percent. Thirty-two Mon Valley municipalities exceeded the average.

PUBLIC ASSISTANCE

A total of 1,730 households were living on welfare, statistically equivalent to one out of every 27 households. Because the average number of people in those households is higher, about 5,000 of the Valley's 117,398 residents are dependent upon public assistance.

Monessen topped the list with 246 households, followed by Rostraver, 187; Donora, 141; West Newton, 140; and Brownsville, 137.

As a percentage of population, Brownsville had more households (11.1 percent) receiving public assistance than any other community. It was followed by Brownsville Township and Jefferson Township, both 10.4 percent; West Newton, 10.2 percent; and Coal Center, 9.9 percent.

Twilight, Roscoe, Dunlevy and Stockdale had no reported welfare recipients. Allenport and Elco each had two families, while Newell, Speers, Smithton and West Brownsville each had three.

The Pennsylvania average for households receiving public assistance was 3.1 percent. Sixteen Mon Valley municipalities exceeded the average.

Additional Information:

Detailed information

You can find oodles of information about your own municipality by accessing the American Community Survey data over the Internet.

Here's how:

1. Go to www.factfinder.census.gov .

2. At the American Community Survey section (below 'Decennial Census' and the 2010 Census logo), click on 'get data.'

3. In the column on the right, select the first one, 'data profile.'

4. Under 'Geographical Type,' select 'county subdivision.'

5. Select 'Pennsylvania' from the list of states.

6. Select the county, let's say 'Westmoreland,' from the list of Pennsylvania counties.

7. Select the municipality, let's say 'Monessen,' from the list of Westmoreland towns.

8. Hit the 'Show Results' tab.

For more detailed information and additional data, you'll need to do some computer gymnastics. In Step 3, start with 'detailed tables' instead of 'data profile.'

If you return to the beginning, you can also access much of the same information and data for 1990 and 2000 to make comparisons.

To start, go to 'Decennial Census' and click on 'get data.'

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