Did you know Spotlight PA is a nonprofit? Learn more about our nonpartisan journalism »
Skip to main content
Main content

Pa. deaths outpaced births in year one of pandemic

Plus, little oversight courts controversy for Pa.’s elected constables.


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA

Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
March 28, 2022
Ripple effects, troubled histories, college plunge, voting records, conservative consensus, reputation suit, and new winter just dropped. It's Monday.
Want to see your message here? Contact us about sponsoring PA Post.
All but five Pennsylvania counties saw more deaths than births from 2020 to 2021, while the state's total population dropped by 25,569 people amid COVID-19, low fertility rates, and continued outmigration, new data show.

The Census Bureau numbers released last week show 159,229 statewide deaths between July 2020 and July 2021 compared to 128,351 births.

Only Philadelphia, Lancaster, Chester, Lehigh, and Dauphin Counties bucked the trend, while rural counties tended to epitomize it.

But Philadelphia's total population still fell, by the largest annual margin in decades, as the pandemic disrupted everything and uprooted many. 

THE CONTEXT: Deaths outpaced births — a phenomenon known as "natural decrease" — in more than 73% of U.S. counties in 2021. That figure is up from 45.5% in 2019 and 55.5% in 2020, the Census Bureau reports.

Per TribLIVE, the Pittsburgh area saw the largest natural decrease of any metropolitan area in the country. Pennsylvania's natural decrease count of nearly 31,000, meanwhile, was the second largest in the country.

The data also backs claims of a COVID-19-inspired urban exodus from places like Philadelphia, which lost nearly 25,000 residents in a single year after a period of steady gains, the largest such drop there since the '70s. 

International immigration reached its lowest level in decades during the pandemic, and while those numbers began to rebound in Pennsylvania in 2021, those gains were partly offset by people moving to other states.

The new Census Bureau estimates are the first reporting on population changes seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, which began in March 2020 and has claimed more than 44,000 lives in Pennsylvania since.

Read more about the Census Bureau's methodology here.

"This is exactly how the Democratic Party in Allegheny County has consistently treated its young women incumbents. This is a system that is set up to fail people like me: newer, younger, emerging voices in our party." 

—State Rep. Jessica Benham (D., Allegheny), one of several progressive female incumbents snubbed in an annual endorsement meeting of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee on Sunday
An oil painting of the historic Thompson-Neely house in Washington Crossing Park by PA Poster Anita N. See more of Anita's work hereSend us your gems, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
ELECTED, UNCHECKED: The case of a New York man who lied about his address to get elected constable in Pennsylvania and then, after pleading guilty to related counts, ran and won in a different county illustrates the holes in Pennsylvania's oversight of the law enforcement position. As a result, The Morning Call reports, people with troubled histories are allowed to assume the role.

COLLEGE TRACK: As of this month, 30,000 fewer Pennsylvania high school students have applied for college financial aid than had at this point one year ago, TribLIVE reports. The 10% drop comes amid a broad decline in college enrollments sped up by the pandemic, with acute impacts on community colleges and regional four-year public universities. Experts say the trend may continue for years.

BY COMMITTEE: Philadelphia's Democratic Party has 3,000 elected committeepeople, a job party Chair Bob Brady once called "the backbone" of democracy. But The Inquirer reports hundreds haven't voted since the 2020 general election or longer, and others don't actually live where they say they do. The posts are on the ballot in May's primary and remain a mystery to many city voters.

ISSUE ALIGNMENT: The nine Republican candidates for governor are in sync on issues like abortion restrictions, school choice, and energy production, the AP reports. There is also round support for banning transgender women from playing on women's high school and collegiate sports teams, the subject of a GOP-led bill that's due for a committee vote tomorrow. Gov. Tom Wolf has vowed a veto.

DEFAMATION SUIT: The wife of suspended Somerset County DA Jeffrey Thomas has filed a $50,000 defamation suit against the woman accusing him of sexual assault, citing "false statements" that have damaged her "reputation" and "economic interests." The case against Thomas is being prosecuted by the state attorney general's office, but the defense is now hinting at a possible conflict.
BIRD FLU: A bald eagle in Chester County is the first confirmed case of a highly contagious strain of avian influenza first identified in North America in December of 2021. Five other birds are being tested, per WGAL.

HANKS COUNTRY: Tom Hanks is filming a movie near Pittsburgh and popping up all over the area — from bridal parties, to weddings, to hardware stores. His presence is so ubiquitous it's starting to inspire parodies.

MEMORIAL TRAIL: Work is underway to connect the locations of Sept. 11 crash sites in Pennsylvania, New York City, and Washington, D.C. with a 1,300-mile trail for hikers and cyclists, The Intelligencer reports.

GRAUPEL GUIDE: En route from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh this weekend, I ran into something called graupel on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. FOX43 explains what makes the winter precipitation different from hail.

FRANCOPHILES: Twitter user @megelison says "If something in the Midwest has a French name, it will be pronounced in the unfrenchiest way you can imagine." See also North Versailles and DuBois, Pennsylvania.
Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.

*This week's theme: Grammar
Friday's answer: Circumgalactic

Congrats to our weekly winner: Kay G.

Congrats to our daily winners: Michelle T., Don H., Doris T., Steve D., Ted W., Vicki U., David W., Craig E., Bill S., Dan W., Suzanne S., Karen W., Pat B., John A., Cindy G., and Ann E.
Like PA Post? Share it with a friend.

Love PA Post? Chip in to support local journalism.

Forwarded this newsletter? Subscribe here.
Spotlight PA is an independent, non-partisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and WITF Public Media.

Copyright © Spotlight PA / The Philadelphia Inquirer, All rights reserved.

Spotlight PA
225 Market St., Suite 502A
Harrisburg, PA 17101

You're receiving this email because you subscribed to PA Post, a daily newsletter by Spotlight PA.

You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.