Pittsburghers have a friendly competition with Cleveland and jokingly call that city “the mistake on the lake.” However, it’s no joke that Cleveland wins the competition on one important measure — the vitality of its African-American community.
This was one of many troubling facts in an examination of the African-American experience in Pittsburgh which the Post-Gazette published last Sunday and Monday. Reporters Gary Rotstein and Tim Grant described several trends affecting the black community here.
One trend is that many African-American professionals do not feel comfortable here, and they lack a cohesive peer group. In some cases they choose to leave for cities that have a larger black middle class, such as Atlanta and Washington, D.C. According to a USA Today analysis of census data, Pittsburgh is experiencing a net loss of 614 African-Americans each year.
A second trend is that blacks who live here often face barriers in joining the professional class; few have become business owners or leaders in their fields of work. Subtle types of discrimination seem to characterize African-American life in Pittsburgh.
One striking disparity is found in the data about household income. In 2015, in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area, blacks had a median household income of $26,330. For whites, the figure was more than double that amount, $57,187. This difference has an impact on local businesses and the regional economy.
Data about home ownership also paint a story that reflects poorly on Pittsburgh. Fifty percent of African-Americans in Washington, D.C., own their homes, and 46 percent of black Atlantans are homeowners. By contrast, only 33 percent of blacks in the Pittsburgh metro area own their homes. The poverty rate for African-Americans here is higher than the rate for the other cities.
Sterling Stone, a 38-year-old Braddock native now living in the nation’s capital, described Pittsburgh as a city with too much “closed mindedness.” He enjoys the diversity of the population in Washington, where at any time he can meet someone from another part of the U.S. or from another country.
Blacks represent only 8 percent of our region’s population, compared to 20 percent in the Cleveland metro area. How can Pittsburgh get to a critical mass of African-American residents so that the minority community will grow stronger and wealthier? In a world where people move freely from city to city, there is no easy answer.
Local government has several initiatives in place to assist immigrants to our city from foreign countries. In 2015, Mayor Bill Peduto announced his Welcoming Pittsburgh program, which is primarily directed to immigrants. Allegheny County government has issued the Community Blueprint, a plan for helping newcomers from other countries thrive here.
We agree that immigrants are important in helping to stem the tide of population loss in the region. However, an equal effort is needed to support the African-American community and prevent outmigration. We urge local governments, universities, and nonprofits such as Vibrant Pittsburgh to focus resources and attention on this issue.
Everyone who cares about the future of Pittsburgh, regardless of race, can work to address the disparities that our report described.