Report shows racial disparity persists in Pittsburgh

By Lauren Wilson / Staff Writer

As the years roll by, Pittsburgh’s rates of diversity and racial disparity stand still.

Pitt’s Center on Race and Social Problems released “Pittsburgh’s Racial Demographics 2015: Differences and Disparities” on Tuesday, a follow-up of the Center’s 2007 report. The report compares the most recent statistics from the city of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, the Pittsburgh metro area and the nation, to assess quality of life based on race. The study found extreme racial disparities in the Pittsburgh area, and also marked that there has been little to no social progress in Pittsburgh since 2007. 

The report states that roughly one third of black people, one quarter of Hispanic people and one fifth of Asian people within the city of Pittsburgh live in poverty, compared to 15 percent of impoverished white people. These numbers are similar to the 2007 report, which found changes of less than one percent in black and Hispanic poverty levels, and that 30.4 percent of Asian people live in poverty in Pittsburgh. According to the 2007 report, 14.3 percent of white people lived in poverty.

The report also found that minorities, particularly black citizens, are severely disadvantaged in Pittsburgh in the social areas of education, criminal justice, health and economics.

Larry E. Davis, dean of Pitt’s School of Social Work and director of the CRSP, Ralph Bangs, associate director of the CRSP and Sarah Berg, coordinator for the CRSP, presented a summary of the report at the School of Social Work on Tuesday at 10:30 a.m.

Data collected in the economic demographic report showed that, in Pittsburgh, a black household’s median income is less than half of a white household’s income. 

Of areas with more than one million residents, Pittsburgh currently has the whitest metropolitan area in the nation. The population diversity section of the report shows that Hispanic people are least represented in the area, comprising of only two percent of the city’s population, which contrasts the growing population of Hispanics on a national level. 

Bangs, who also worked on the 2007 report, said, “A major finding is that economic and educational conditions continue to be among our most serious problems in this region.”

A variety of factors cause these racial disparities. 

Bangs said that Pittsburgh’s racial disparities in homeownership stem from racial discrimination in the housing market and high poverty rates that leave black citizens at an economic disadvantage. In Pittsburgh, only a third of black individuals own a home, compared to almost two-thirds of the white population.

Segregation between the black and white communities is also still an issue. The average white student in the Pittsburgh area attends a school where 90 percent of students are white and most students are not poor. At the same time, the average black student attends a school where fifty percent of students are black and the majority of students are poor. Minority students also have less knowledge in math and reading than white students, according to test scores on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment in 2012.

Davis said, with these findings, policy makers can use information in the report to improve the quality of life for minorities in Pittsburgh. 

Mayor Bill Peduto attended the conference and thanked the center for gathering the report. Peduto said the findings will be “the baseline for all discussion.”

Following the conference, Davis said to reduce racial disparities in criminal justice, society should question the country’s staggering incarceration rate, including the war on drugs. He also recommended a more diverse police force, and said the introduction of more opportunities for people in poor communities would reduce injustice.

In the wake of the report and the events in Ferguson, Mo., Pitt’s Black Action Society is focused on immediate changes in racial disparities and injustice within the criminal justice system. 

Executive Secretary Dejah Stewart said the Black Action Society is hosting a town hall meeting with a police panel this Friday. The panel will give people a chance to understand their rights and build a better relationship between students and police in Pittsburgh.

“People want to avoid [racial discrimination], they don’t want to acknowledge it’s an issue,” Stewart said. “But it is, especially with Ferguson and the facts presented from this report.”