Sunday, August 12, 2007

Immigration Churn

Be sure to check out Chris Briem's recapitulation of regional immigration statistics in Sunday's Post-Gazette "The Next Page." Chris and I have been wondering whether anyone ever actually drew up a sketch of Border Guard Bob.

Not coincidentally, the PG has a full-color advertising driven "Diversity" section in Sunday's paper. (Foolishly, the content is not available in searchable form, and equally foolishly, it is presented in a Flash container that prevents cutting-and-pasting, i.e., that makes quoting in blogs a little more difficult.) The best piece in the section (best because it is the least forced) is a profile of Scott Township, which somewhat unexpectedly has become a beachhead for South Asian immigration. The article starts on page 6. A neat point:
Scott's unexpected status as immigrant beachhead does provide hope that metropolitan Pittsburgh can shed its label as one of the least international big cities in America. Its drop from melting pot status began after 1940, when the foreign-born population peaked at more than 12 percent and then continuously fell, hit a low of 2.4 percent in 1990 before inching up to 2.6 percent by 2000, the first increase in at least 50 years. It rose some more, to 3 percent, by 2004, but that increase was still the lowest among the nation's top 25 metro areas, trailing such places as Denver, Minneapolis, Cleveland, and Cincinnati.

The reason Pittsburgh's immigration rate is so alarming to followers of the local economy is what it portends: slow growth. As Pittsburgh's work force grows older and in need of replacement and as the region continues to lose population [but see Briem, above], economic development experts predict that an area unattractive to immigrants will have a hard time filling positions if the economy grows at even a marginal rate the next 10 to 20 years.

Author Gregg Zachary, who studied Pittsburgh's immigration challenges and last year reported on diversity in American cities, concluded Pittsburgh's pro-immigrant groups "are languishing, if not defeated." Civic leaders "have done little to tackle the widespread sense among foreigners that Pittsburgh is not an attractive destination."

The special section complements the upcoming DiverCITY festival, and I've already expressed my skepticism about that point. Focused media coverage of diversity and immigration is a better idea than panels-and-concerts. The former, if done right, at least does a little something to project the region's interest in change and growth beyond the boundaries of Western PA. (Making the section all but unfindable on the Internet means, however, that the media is not being done right!) The latter seems designed primarily to bathe various local egos.

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