Our Metro Area Faces a Critical Challenge in the Area of Liberty and Justice for All

Disturbing data: Pittsburgh must get to work on racial disparities

By the Post Gazette Editorial Board

Jan 18, 2015 – When Larry E. Davis says there are wide racial disparities in Pittsburgh that translate into broad and significant disadvantages for local African-Americans, he’s not giving an opinion. He is summarizing 137 pages of alarming statistics.

The report, “Pittsburgh’s Racial Demographics 2015: Differences and Disparities,” was released Tuesday by the University of Pittsburgh’s Center on Race and Social Problems, where Mr. Davis is both director of the center and dean of the university’s School of Social Work.

The compilation paints a bleak picture of the economic, educational, health and social realities conspiring to limit opportunities for black residents. Perhaps even worse, it demonstrates — based on a comparable 2007 report — that circumstances of black Pittsburghers have not improved.

Some key findings:

• The household income for black families in Pittsburgh was just 49 percent of white families between 2007 and 2011 — $21,800 versus $44,600. That far exceeds the gap nationwide.

• Far more white students than blacks scored proficient in reading and math on achievement tests. Only 10 percent of black adults in the city, compared with 20 percent of whites, hold four-year college degrees.

• In Pittsburgh, both black juveniles and black adults were arrested at five times the rate of their white counterparts overall. Although nationally the rate of arrests for drug violations are only slightly higher for blacks than whites, in Pittsburgh black youths were arrested nearly five times as often as whites.

Overall, 66 percent of Pittsburgh residents are white, 26 percent are black, 4 percent are Asian and 2 percent Hispanic. In the seven-county statistical region, 87 percent of the residents are white, the highest among metro areas of more than 1 million residents. So why, if Pittsburgh looks so different statistically from the stereotype of mean urban streets portrayed in movies and nightly news reports, are there so many stark contrasts based on race?

The prodigious Pitt report does not offer theories to explain what exists, nor does it attempt to spell out simple solutions to deep-seated problems. What it does is provide ammunition, hard facts that demand attention, from government agencies, certainly, but more fundamentally from people — parents, educators, employers, churches, charities, foundations and civic leaders.

Pittsburgh no longer can close its eyes and dream that change will come. It must get to work.

Meet the Editorial Board.

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