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Census 2000: Region's richest towns also most educated

How higher education pays off

Thursday, May 30, 2002

By Steve Levin and Eleanor Chute, Post-Gazette Staff Writers

More than ever before, a post-high school education stands out as the major difference between communities with high incomes and those with low incomes, according to the latest data about Pennsylvania from Census 2000.

Census 2002

Online chart:
Linking education & income



In Allegheny County, for instance, Fox Chapel had the highest percentage of residents with college degrees and also the highest median family income, at $147,298. The former steel mill town of Rankin had the lowest percentage of college graduates and also had the lowest median income, at $13,832.

The Fox Chapel and Rankin median incomes also were the highest and lowest in the entire state of Pennsylvania.

The median represent the point at which half of all household reported higher income and half reported lower.

The data on income and education released yesterday came from the so-called long form that went to about one of every six U.S. households. While the short form asked residents eight questions about race, age and ethnic origin, the long form contained more than four dozen questions on a variety of social, economic and housing characteristics.

Among the highlights:

The gender gap. Full-time male workers in Pennsylvania earned an average of $37,051 during 2000, while women working full time earned $26,687, nearly 39 percent less. The difference was even more pronounced in Western Pennsylvania. In Butler County, for example, men out-earned their female counterparts by 58 percent -- $39,922 to $25,347.

Decline in poverty. While the number of families in poverty declined by about 3 percent statewide, to 250,296, the number in the six-county region dropped by more than 20 percent, something experts attribute to successful welfare-to-work programs. In 2000, the federal government considered a family of four with a total annual income of less than $17,050 as living in poverty.

Longer commuting times. Statewide, the average commute to work increased by 3.6 minutes between 1990 and 2000, from 21.6 to 25.2 minutes. In Allegheny County, the average commute increased by 2.2 minutes, from 23.1 minutes in 1990 to 25.3 minutes in 2000.

Only on the Web:

For more information on your community, click on DataFinder on the PG Census page.


Divorce rates. While there was a 26.1 percent increase in divorces statewide, and a 22.5 percent increase in the six-county region, Pittsburgh's rate dropped by one-tenth of a percent.

Rising and falling

While Allegheny County boasts the state's wealthiest and poorest communities, the changes wrought by the passing decade were more subtle and pervasive than a simple split between haves and have-nots.

Evan Stoddard, associate dean of liberal arts at Duquesne University and former economic development director for Pittsburgh's Urban Redevelopment Authority, said the Census 2000 data shows county municipalities falling into one of four categories.

He called them growing family suburbs, maturing-but-still-developing suburbs, older suburbs and mill towns..

The growing family suburbs, such as Plum, Upper St. Clair, Richland and North Fayette, built more dwelling units and increased in population from 1990 to 2000.

In the maturing-but-developing category, he included municipalities such as Monroeville, Bethel Park and Shaler. Those areas built more housing units but lost population.

Sewickley, Dormont and Crafton are older suburbs that declined in dwelling units and population.

Mill towns such as McKees Rocks, Braddock and Homestead all lost significant numbers of dwelling units and people.

The county lost more than 4,000 housing units between 1990 and 2000 and nearly 55,000 people; Pittsburgh lost more than 9,000 dwelling units and 34,000 people during the same period.

"The center city [of Pittsburgh] is kind of reflective of the county as a whole. Allegheny County is an aging county."

Of the 15 communities in Allegheny County with the highest median household incomes, all but two also were among the top 15 in the percentagesof residents 25 and older with at least a bachelor's degree.

"The fundamental reason is the economic transformation in American society," said Gordon De Jong, distinguished professor of sociology at Penn State University.

This economic change toward more high-end, professional services, he said, has "exaggerated the income differences by education so the payoff for education is far more than what it was 30 years ago or 20 years ago."

In Rankin, the percentage of residents with a college degree was just 4.3 percent. In stark contrast, Fox Chapel had the highest percentage of residents over age 25 with at least a bachelor's degree -- 79.5 percent. Add in all Fox Chapel residents over 25 who had at least some college education, and the number rises to 94 percent, the highest in the six-county region.

Karen McIntyre, president of the Education Policy and Issues Center, which researches education in southwestern Pennsylvania, said studies showed a connection between low income and low performance in the workplace and high income and high performance.

Decline in poverty

Of the 250,296 Pennsylvanian families living in poverty, 54 percent of those -- 134,560 -- are female-headed households, according to Census 2000.

Still, the more than 20 percent decline of families living in poverty in the region demonstrated the success of the welfare-to-work programs, officials said.

That success was built on a late 1990s job market that provided the entry-level jobs needed by those leaving the rolls.

"If the economy in the Pittsburgh area over the past four to five years had not been pretty good for entry-level jobs, poverty might not have gone down," De Jong said.

Fewer Pennsylvanians used public transportation and carpools over the past decade, and the resulting increase in workers using private vehicles resulted in longer commutes.

In 2000, 11 percent more Pennsylvanians drove alone than in 1990. Carpooling was down more than 16 percent and public transportation use dropped 15.7 percent.

In Allegheny County, the faster-growing northern municipalities had the highest percentage increase in commuting time to work, while those living in the congested southern and eastern portions of the county spent more minutes driving to work.

"On the surface, I think the change in transit use and the change in carpooling and increase in travel time don't bode well for sustainable land use in the region," said Davitt Woodwell, vice president of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, a statewide advocacy organization.

The latest census figures also show more foreign-born residents in Pennsylvania than 10 years ago, although Allegheny County's 14.9-percent jump lagged behind the statewide increase of 37.6 percent.

Pennsylvania also does not have a large portion of residents who were born in other states, although that figure grew slightly from 15.7 percent in 1990 to 16.9 percent in 2000.

In Allegheny County, the proportion of those born in other states barely grew from 13.1 percent to 13.5 percent.

As far as ancestry is concerned, German, Irish and Italian are among the top four listed ancestries in Allegheny County. "Other ancestries" took second place.

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