Rust Belt Chic Demography

Rust Belt cities such as Cincinnati are filling up with college educated young adults. Rust Belt Chic is the main attraction. Part of the draw is the strange juxtaposition of the eldest residents with the recent newcomers.  As I explained to Bloomberg journalist Frank Bass, Pittsburgh has that in spades:

“The Rust Belt exodus of the 1980s robbed Pittsburgh of a generation of family households,” Jim Russell, a geographer who studies the relationship between migration and economic development, said in an e-mail. “Parents and would-be parents left in large numbers. Those who stayed aged in place.”

Pennsylvania ranked 38th among states and the District of Columbia in job growth in the Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States from the first quarter of 1995 through the fourth quarter of last year, the most recent data available. Only Michigan fared worse than Ohio.

Now, about one in eight Pittsburgh households is occupied by a single elderly person, the fifth-highest among U.S. cities. Russell said a significant share of the single households consist of elderly women, or what he calls “Rust-Belt babushkas.”

Hipsters are moving in next door to grandma. You will find both generations at the Pittsburgh Banjo Club. Now add to the mix those long gone returning home to help take care of the Rust Belt Babushkas. That’s Rust Belt Chic demography.

Pittsburgh can thank brain drain for its current cultural vitality. People had to leave in order for the region to attract outsiders. This migration is just heating up. I think Pittsburgh is on the cusp of a boom. The good news keeps popping in unexpected places, driving talent to Southwestern Pennsylvania.


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