A new study by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania predicts that Westmoreland County will experience a significant population decline and urbanization in the next three decades, with implications for housing, health care, education and transportation.
Population loss and aging
According to the study, Westmoreland County will lose 16% of its population between 2020 and 2050, dropping from 354,316 to 297,459 residents. This is more than twice the population loss expected in any of the eight counties in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area during the same period. The study also projects that the county will become a rural rather than an urban county, as its population density will fall below 284 people per square mile, the threshold used by the U.S. Census Bureau to define urban areas.
The study attributes the population decline to several factors, such as low birth rates, high death rates, out-migration of young adults and limited in-migration of newcomers. The study also warns that the county will face an aging challenge, as the median age will rise from 46.6 in 2020 to 51.1 in 2050, and the share of residents aged 65 and older will increase from 22.4% to 31.9%.
Impacts on various sectors
The population decline and aging will have impacts on various sectors in Westmoreland County, such as housing, health care, education and transportation. The study suggests that the county will need to adjust its housing supply and demand, as there will be fewer households and more vacant units. The study also recommends that the county should promote affordable and accessible housing options for seniors and low-income residents.
The study also highlights the need for adequate and quality health care services for the county’s aging population, especially in rural areas where access to health care providers may be limited. The study urges the county to support local health systems, recruit and retain health care workers, expand telehealth services and address social determinants of health.
The study also indicates that the county will face challenges in providing education for its shrinking and diverse student population. The study suggests that the county should consider consolidating school districts, enhancing online learning opportunities, diversifying curricula and staff, and collaborating with post-secondary institutions and employers.
The study also points out that the county will have to maintain and improve its transportation infrastructure and services, as there will be less revenue from gas taxes and vehicle fees. The study advises the county to prioritize road maintenance and safety, invest in public transit and alternative modes of transportation, and coordinate with regional planning agencies.
Recommendations for policy makers
The study concludes by offering some recommendations for policy makers at the state and local levels to address the population decline and urbanization in Westmoreland County. The study calls for a comprehensive and coordinated approach that involves various stakeholders, such as government agencies, non-profit organizations, businesses, community groups and residents. The study also emphasizes the importance of data collection and analysis, public engagement and communication, innovation and adaptation, and intergovernmental cooperation.
The study was conducted by researchers from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Penn State University and Slippery Rock University. It is part of a series of studies on population change in Pennsylvania counties funded by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, a bipartisan legislative agency that serves as a resource for rural policy within the Pennsylvania General Assembly.