August 1 2006

It's been said the one constant in life is change. In Pennsylvania, changes in statewide and regional population are issues that impact the state's overall economic competitiveness - now and in the future.

(August 2006) People move – often to find better job opportunities, more affordable housing, or a better quality of life. As a result, some regions of Pennsylvania will grow in population while others will lose population. The latest IssuesPA/Pew poll assessed citizens’ opinions on these anticipated changes and the impact on their region.

First, the poll gauged citizens’ expectations for population growth. Almost half said their region would experience growth; about a quarter said it would stay the same and another quarter expected population declines. Those responding from the south central region had the highest expectations for population growth. Those in the southwest had the lowest.

Who’s likely to move, and where are they going?

A quarter of those polled said they expect to move away from their region in the next 10 years. Driving this number are young adults. Roughly half of those under 30 (51%) said they expect to move, and more than a third (36%) of these young people said they’d move out of state. Attracting and retaining young people is a key concern in many parts of the state. Adults under 30 who expect to leave their region cited one reason above any other – better job opportunities (43%).  

Older Pennsylvanians taking the poll were much more likely to say they  expect to stay put. Only about one in five (18%) Pennsylvanians age 30 or older said they were inclined to move from their part of the state in the next 10 years. And, most often, they gave three reasons: to go somewhere more affordable or with lower taxes (21%), for better job opportunities (19%), and to go somewhere less crowded or stressful (17%).

Non-white Pennsylvanians surveyed were much more likely than whites to expect to leave their region in the next 10 years (50% vs. 22%). More than a third (36%) of non-whites said they expect to move out of state. The region with the highest proportion of residents expecting to move is Philadelphia (47%), followed by the northeast (33%). The statewide average was 25%. Many of those surveyed don’t expect to go very far – 41% expect to go no farther than a neighboring state, such as New York, New Jersey, Maryland or Ohio.

Are population changes good?

One in four Pennsylvania residents polled said they worry population changes in their part of Pennsylvania over the next 10 years will affect their quality of life adversely.


Concern About Pennsylvania Population Shifts   

Will expected changes in next 10 years improve or worsen your family’s quality of life? 

Total PA  

Expect population to grow  

Expect to lose population  









Make worse




Not much difference




Don’t know




Regions population will stay the same







 Total number surveyed




Most Pennsylvanians surveyed said they expect their region to be affected by population shifts over the next 10 years. More said they believe these changes will impact their quality of life negatively rather than positively (26% versus 11%). While those who saw their region shrinking in population were most likely to see their quality of life diminished (42%), even those who predicted growth for their region more often said the change would worsen their family’s quality of life rather than improve it (32% vs. 20%).

Roughly three-quarters (76%) of south central residents polled predicted growth, while 39% of residents in the southwest expected population losses. Just 28% said they forecasted growth. Despite these differences in expectations, about the same percentages said they believe their lives will be worse (26% in south central and 24% in southwest, respectively) and better (15% and 13%) as a result of expected population shifts.

So what do all these numbers mean?

Pennsylvanians prefer the status quo. It appears Pennsylvanians participating in the poll would be most happy with no population growth or decline – yet that’s unlikely to happen. People will continue to come and go in varying proportions. Some regions will grow, others will contract. The key to whether change is good or bad isn’t necessarily the net change in total population in a region, but a closer look at who is coming and going, and in what numbers.

The IssuesPA/Pew poll findings suggest losing larger numbers of young people is in the offing, but the poll can’t predict who’s coming in - and in what numbers. A net loss of younger Pennsylvanians, especially those with higher levels of education, poses a problem. Younger people will comprise an increasing portion of the workforce over the next decade, and they represent an essential element of the tax base paying for government services.

While this group has always been the most mobile, keeping and attracting young talent – even growing their total numbers – remains a long term economic competitiveness concern.