Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


pittsburgh-dawn

The city of Pittsburgh at dawn, as seen from Mt. Washington. The Monongahela River is in the foreground. (PHOTO: MATTHEW FIELD/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Pittsburgh Booming

• July 22, 2013 • 7:08 AM

The city of Pittsburgh at dawn, as seen from Mt. Washington. The Monongahela River is in the foreground. (PHOTO: MATTHEW FIELD/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

The Steel City offers a better chance for upward mobility than almost any other place in the United States.

Economist Paul Krugman weighed in on the Detroit bankruptcy comparing the city to Pittsburgh. Krugman puts Pittsburgh in a flattering light. Worth noting that Pittsburgh’s municipal finances are arguably worse off than those of Detroit. That’s not the tale of two cities Krugman wants to tell. If he waited a day, he could have pointed to Pittsburgh’s remarkably good upward mobility:

The study — based on millions of anonymous earnings records and being released this week by a team of top academic economists — is the first with enough data to compare upward mobility across metropolitan areas. These comparisons provide some of the most powerful evidence so far about the factors that seem to drive people’s chances of rising beyond the station of their birth, including education, family structure and the economic layout of metropolitan areas.

Climbing the income ladder occurs less often in the Southeast and industrial Midwest, the data shows, with the odds notably low in Atlanta, Charlotte, Memphis, Raleigh, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Columbus. By contrast, some of the highest rates occur in the Northeast, Great Plains and West, including in New York, Boston, Salt Lake City, Pittsburgh, Seattle and large swaths of California and Minnesota. …

… Yet the parts of this country with the highest mobility rates — like Pittsburgh, Seattle and Salt Lake City — have rates roughly as high as those in Denmark and Norway, two countries at the top of the international mobility rankings. In areas like Atlanta and Memphis, by comparison, upward mobility appears to be substantially lower than in any other rich country, Mr. Chetty said.

Emphasis added. Going from poor to rich is more likely in Pittsburgh than just about anywhere else in the entire United States. That’s right, Shittsburgh. Suck it, Sienna Miller.

Pittsburgh is booming. The preliminary jobs data for June are in. The metro hit an all-time high for employment. Pittsburgh’s economy is better than ever. The same can’t be said about Detroit, which is the tale of two cities that Krugman wants to tell. By my eye, the fortunes start diverging around 2003. Keep that in mind while reading Matthew Yglesias speculating about the reason for the disparity:

Paul Krugman writes about how the much greater degree of job sprawl in the Detroit area compared to the Pittsburgh area contributed to the substantial more severe decline of Detroit’s central city, and therefore hurt the region as a whole. Stepping back, though, I suspect you’ll find that this job diffusion is largely a consequence of the fact that Pittsburgh is home to two major universities—Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh—while Detroit has only Wayne State University, a substantially less prestigious and influential institution. Detroit is fairly close to Ann Arbor, a great little town that hosts the University of Michigan, but that’s very much a distinct place.

If you imagine an alternate reality in which the University of Michigan and the neighborhoods around it are tucked somewhere into Detroit and adding their mass to the hospitals and mini-revival area downtown then you’d have a much greater agglomeration in the core of Detroit.

The overall higher education sector in the United States takes a lot of criticism these days, but in part precisely because of the things that make it seem kind of bloated and inefficient it’s a very valuable urban amenity. Universities both create little neighborhood-level retail clusters around them, and along with medical facilities become the twin pillars of a regional knowledge-based economy. Of course cities can thrive without necessarily playing host to a prestigious private university or a public university flagship campus (San Antonio, for example) but for lots of older cities hit hard by the macroeconomic trends of the 1970s and 1980s the existence of major universities has provided a foundation for rebuilding.

Suck it, Portland. That said, I would think the divergence between Pittsburgh and Detroit would be apparent well before 2003 if Yglesias is correct. Pittsburgh develops talent. New York City consumes it. Education and then migration promote upward mobility. The macroeconomic trends of the 1970s and 1980s hit Pittsburgh hard. An exodus like no other ensued.

The dramatic brain drain of the 1980s is a testament to Pittsburgh’s prowess. The higher the level of educational attainment, the more likely a person is to leave. People didn’t abandon metro Detroit like they did metro Pittsburgh. Why? Pittsburgh did a much better job of educating its residents. Thus, Pittsburgh offers much greater upward mobility opportunities. That’s the tale of two cities Krugman should have told.

Jim Russell
Jim Russell is a geographer studying the relationship between migration and economic development.

More From Jim Russell

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 1 • 2:00 PM

Most People With Addiction Simply Grow Out of It. Why Is This Widely Denied?

The idea that addiction is typically a chronic, progressive disease that requires treatment is false, the evidence shows. Yet the “aging out” experience of the majority is ignored by treatment providers and journalists.


October 1 • 1:00 PM

Midlife Neuroticism Linked to Alzheimer’s Disease in Old Age

New research from Sweden suggests that the personality dimension is connected to who ultimately suffers from late-in-life dementia.



October 1 • 11:11 AM

The Creative Class Boondoggle in Downtown Las Vegas

On Tony Hsieh and the pseudoscience of “collisions.”


October 1 • 9:14 AM

Mysterious Resting State Networks Might Be What Allow Different Brain Therapies to Work

Deep brain stimulation and similar treatments target the hubs of larger resting-state networks in the brain, researchers find.


October 1 • 6:00 AM

Would You Like a Subscription with Your Coffee?

A new app hopes to unite local coffee shops while helping you find a cheap cup of good coffee.


October 1 • 4:00 AM

How to Plant a Library

Somewhere outside of Oslo, there are 1,000 newly-planted spruce trees. One hundred years from now, if everything goes to plan, they’ll be published together as 100 pieces of art.



September 30 • 10:09 AM

Trust Is Waning, and Inequality May Be to Blame

Trust in others and confidence in institutions is declining, while economic inequality creeps up, a new study shows.


September 30 • 8:00 AM

The Psychology of Penmanship

Graphology: It’s all (probably) bunk.



September 30 • 6:00 AM

The Medium Is the Message, 50 Years Later

Five decades on, what can Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media tell us about today?


September 30 • 4:00 AM

Grad School’s Mental Health Problem

Navigating the emotional stress of doctoral programs in a down market.


September 29 • 1:21 PM

Conference Call: Free Will Conference


September 29 • 12:00 PM

How Copyright Law Protects Art From Criticism

A case for allowing the copyright on Gone With the Wind to expire.


September 29 • 10:00 AM

Should We Be Told Who Funds Political Attack Ads?

On the value of campaign finance disclosure.


September 29 • 8:00 AM

Searching for a Man Named Penis

A quest to track down a real Penis proves difficult.


September 29 • 6:00 AM

Why Do So Many People Watch HGTV?

The same reason so many people watch NCIS or Law and Order: It’s all a procedural.


September 29 • 4:00 AM

The Link Between Depression and Terrorism

A new study from the United Kingdom finds a connection between depression and radicalization.


September 26 • 4:00 PM

Fast Track to a Spill?

Oil pipeline projects across America are speeding forward without environmental review.


September 26 • 2:00 PM

Why Liberals Love the Disease Theory of Addiction, by a Liberal Who Hates It

The disease model is convenient to liberals because it spares them having to say negative things about poor communities. But this conception of addiction harms the very people we wish to help.


September 26 • 1:21 PM

Race, Trust, and Split-Second Judgments


September 26 • 9:47 AM

Dopamine Might Be Behind Impulsive Behavior

A monkey study suggests the brain chemical makes what’s new and different more attractive.


September 26 • 8:00 AM

A Letter Becomes a Book Becomes a Play

Sarah Ruhl’s Dear Elizabeth: A Play in Letters From Elizabeth Bishop to Robert Lowell and Back Again takes 900 pages of correspondence between the two poets and turns them into an on-stage performance.


September 26 • 7:00 AM

Sonic Hedgehog, DICER, and the Problem With Naming Genes

Wait, why is there a Pokemon gene?


Follow us


Mysterious Resting State Networks Might Be What Allow Different Brain Therapies to Work

Deep brain stimulation and similar treatments target the hubs of larger resting-state networks in the brain, researchers find.

Trust Is Waning, and Inequality May Be to Blame

Trust in others and confidence in institutions is declining, while economic inequality creeps up, a new study shows.

Dopamine Might Be Behind Impulsive Behavior

A monkey study suggests the brain chemical makes what's new and different more attractive.

School Counselors Do More Than You’d Think

Adding just one counselor to a school has an enormous impact on discipline and test scores, according to a new study.

How a Second Language Trains Your Brain for Math

Second languages strengthen the brain's executive control circuits, with benefits beyond words.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.