Sunday Forum: Pittsburgh's shame
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The bad news about Pittsburgh's African-American population just got worse, and it should shake up every resident of any race in Western Pennsylvania.
Larry E. Davis is the dean of the School of Social Work and founding director of the Center on Race and Social Problems at the University of Pittsburgh (email@example.com). Ralph Bangs is the associate director of the Center on Race and Social Problems (firstname.lastname@example.org). The center's report, "Pittsburgh's Racial Demographics: Differences and Disparities," can be found at www.crsp.pitt.edu.
A study released last week by the University of Pittsburgh's Center on Race and Social Problems confirmed, yet again, that African Americans in our region remain at the bottom of every measure of the quality of life, which include indicators of economic status, educational achievement, family stability and violence.
Add to that dismaying information a new, more startling discovery: African Americans who have called Pittsburgh home for generations are living lives more impoverished and desperate than even the most recent immigrants to Pittsburgh.
Data compiled about four racial groups in Pittsburgh -- white, black, Asian and Hispanic -- show that not only whites have eclipsed African Americans in education, employment and most other dimensions of life, but so have Asians and Hispanics.
More than 50 years after the Brown v. Board of Education court decision that ordered school integration, more than 40 years after the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act became law, black Pittsburghers appear to be trapped beneath the inexorable march of others' progress.
Our recent report, the most comprehensive ever done on the quality of life of multiple racial groups in the greater Pittsburgh area, shows that:
African-American men are unemployed at more than twice the rate of white men;
The African-American poverty rate is more than twice that of whites;
Only a third of black students in the city were proficient in reading in the 11th grade, no better than they were in the 5th grade; only a fifth were proficient in math in the 11th grade, a drop from their proficiency in the 5th grade;
For all categories of arrests, Asian and Hispanic juveniles and adults hardly register. By contrast, violent-crime arrests for African-American juveniles in Pittsburgh are twice the rate for black juveniles nationally, and murder and manslaughter arrests for adult blacks in the city are nearly 30 times that of whites.
As social scientists who have studied racial disparity in the region and in America for decades, we find this intractable and defining social problem to be an intriguing research dilemma. But as Pittsburghers and fathers of young children, it's more than academic: It's personal. Our children -- and yours -- will inherit both what is good and what is bad about Pittsburgh. A city in which more than a quarter of its people are struggling to survive, and in the process impoverish our collective potential for growth, progress and fulfillment, is destined for failure.
Given this bleak situation, how could anyone be hopeful about the future of our region? But, of course, hope is our job. And more research is our mission.
Our next step in this study is to discern the causes of our current dismal state, explore what has worked to elevate the quality of black life elsewhere in the country and work to inspire government, philanthropic, educational, neighborhood and religious leaders to create and implement policies that are equitable, smart and courageous. We also will call upon the black community to take ownership of this initiative, just as they took center stage in the civil rights movement a generation ago.
But most importantly, we need to keep this critical issue always in front of us, even when the results of a fresh race survey are not. The issue needs to be part of the discussion whether the topic is taxes, arenas, casinos, safety, housing, pollution, jobs, education, health, transportation, government consolidation, ethics, the young, the old or criminal justice.
This long-standing problem has become an ugly thread woven through the fabric of Pittsburgh. Its solution will require an intricate re-weaving. The Center on Race and Social Problems pledges to provide the frame and urges every citizen to help create a new urban tapestry, this one beautiful for all.
First Published June 29, 2007 7:52 pm