Pittsburgh’s Shame

Larry E. Davis and Ralph Bangs, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 1, 2007

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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.

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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.

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[Editor’s Note: PDFs of the executive summary and the full report can read or downloaded “Pittsburgh’s Racial Demographics: Differences and Disparities”

can be read here.]


The center’s new report “Pittsburgh’s Racial Demographics: Differences and Disparities” is the most comprehensive study ever done on quality-of-life issues for multiple racial and ethnic groups in Pittsburgh—African Americans, Asians, Hispanics, and Whites.

The data focus on family issues, education, economic conditions, intergroup relations, mental health, and criminal justice, and compare Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, and the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area to the United States.

The information in the report will go a long way toward helping us as a community plot strategies, make policy decisions, and, in the process, potentially improve the quality of life for our fellow citizens, irrespective of race.

It is our hope to update this report every three years, particularly if the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (which is designed to replace the decennial census) produces regular, reliable data by race for cities, counties, and regions.

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