Pitt report shows continued racial disparities in Pittsburgh, region
January 13, 2015 11:39 PM
According to the Pitt report, within the city of Pittsburgh, 33 percent of blacks live in poverty, compared to 15 percent of whites.
By Gary Rotstein / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
An inaugural report comparing the status of the region’s different racial groups in 2007 found wide disparities and emphasized the across-the-board disadvantages faced, in particular, by the local African-American population.
A followup released Tuesday by the University of Pittsburgh’s Center on Race and Social Problems found little has changed in the intervening years.
“People of minority racial backgrounds lack opportunities to obtain sufficient employment, become adequately educated, live in good neighborhoods and enjoy a life free of foul treatment from the legal justice system,” stated the executive summary of the new report, “Pittsburgh’s Racial Demographics 2015: Differences and Disparities.”
The report used U.S. Census Bureau data and other information to compare how whites, blacks, Asians and Hispanics fare on such issues as economics, education, housing, health and crime-related issues in the city of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and the seven-county metropolitan area.
The Asian and Hispanic populations are still small here compared with other urban centers — the report noted Pittsburgh has the lowest minority percentage of any metropolitan area of more than 1 million people — and much of the report highlighted the inequalities faced by blacks, who are by far the largest minority group.
For instance, the average median household income of white households nationally in the 2007-11 time frame was about 1.6 times that of black households, but in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area, white households took in twice as much as blacks. The gap was even slightly wider than double within the city and Allegheny County.
The report’s authors noted at a news conference that economic disparities are a driving factor in creating gaps in other areas, such as education and health. The widespread recession that began in 2008 hindered chances to close those gaps, they said.
Larry E. Davis, director of the Center on Race and Social Problems, said that while Pittsburgh’s economy may have done well in recent years in supplying high-tech jobs and those related to the education and health care industries, African-Americans have been less prepared for such jobs than for those in the long-declining manufacturing sector.
“This isn’t the best context for things to take place” that would improve the conditions of blacks locally, said Mr. Davis, who is also dean of the School of Social Work.
Upon release of the 2007 report, various local officials stated it was a starting point for policy-makers and others to work on addressing disparities.
When asked Tuesday to explain the lack of progress, Ralph Bangs, the center’s former associate director, said it shouldn’t be viewed as surprising,
“Wages, employment levels, education, other factors like the war on drugs and criminal justice disparities ... are big factors that are causing these disparities, and since the disparities are massive, we would need massive interventions to shift these, and those haven’t happened in recent decades,” Mr. Bangs said.
Mayor Bill Peduto and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald were present for release of the report, which was primarily funded by the Heinz Endowments.
Mr. Peduto said the information would provide a useful baseline for city officials in developing strategies such as increasing the availability of affordable housing.
Many of the issues raised in the report, Mr. Fitzgerald said, are the same ones challenging urban officials across the country, though the report drew no comparisons with other cities. He said the solutions start with providing better economic opportunities.
“I think there has been some progress, but obviously, we’ve got a lot more to make,” he said.
One limitation of the report, which was two years in the making, is much of the data in it are already several years old. But among other notable findings:
• While blacks had substantially higher death rates than whites locally for a range of diseases, a 2012 survey showed blacks in the city and county were more likely than whites to rate their health as excellent and less likely to rate it poor.
• There was a far greater disparity locally in the arrest rates of black and white citizens than is the case nationally. Black youths were arrested at twice the rate of white youths nationally, but six times as much in the Pittsburgh region. The violent crime arrest rate for adults was four times higher for blacks than whites nationally, but 10 times higher in the region.
• When rating how police did in protecting their neighborhoods in the 2012 survey, only 8.8 percent of black city residents rated the protection as “poor,” compared with 13.1 percent of non-blacks.