Pittsburgh, once a true melting pot, is now one of the least international big cities in America, and that could foreshadow more problems for an already slow local economy.
Only 3 percent, or 72,325, of the Pittsburgh-area population was foreign born as of 2004, one of the lowest percentages of any major U.S. city. From 2000 to 2004, the region added 11,039 international migrants—a mere 0.5 percent increase, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
It was the lowest increase among the nation’s top 25 metro areas, trailing many similar-sized regions: Denver added 62,765, Seattle added 72,152, Minneapolis added 49,455, and Cleveland added 16,361.
Even Cincinnati, which rivals Pittsburgh in the homogeneity department, added slightly more immigrants (11,836) from 2000 to 2004.
The reason Pittsburgh’s immigration rate is so alarming to followers of the local economy is what it portends: slow growth.
The one bit of encouraging news is that Pittsburgh’s foreign-born population is moving upward—if only slightly—for the first time in more than half a century.
Despite all this, there was no across-the-board growth in Asians, Hispanics and other foreigners as there was in other big cities during the 1990s and the first several years of the 21st century. And Pittsburgh’s slight foreign-born population increase during the ‘90s, from 2.4 to 2.6 percent, pales when compared with a city such as Miami-Ft. Lauderdale, where more than 40 percent of the population is foreign-born, or San Diego (more than 20 percent) or even Atlanta (10 percent).
“Pittsburgh is the white-ist large metro area in the nation,” said Christopher Briem, of the University Center for Social and Urban Research at the University of Pittsburgh.
Several local organizations are doing their best to increase the flow of foreigners, believing that more immigrants could fill labor shortages in various trades, including nursing and manufacturing, while also making Pittsburgh a more vibrant, cosmopolitan city and increasing its political clout.
“We need people,” said Andy Pugh, of the Welcome Center for Immigrants & Internationals, in Squirrel Hill, a group that helps foreigners find housing, schools and health care.
Added Schuyler Foerster, president of the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh: “if we want to grow the economy we need to increase our work force. Other cities have done it with a substantial influx of immigrants. That’s empirical.”
While native-born Americans need to be trained for highly skilled jobs, too, immigrants are a part of the labor pool “we shouldn’t ignore,” said Barry Maciak, executive director of Duquesne University’s Institute for Economic Transformation.