Last week, Allegheny Conference on Community Development President and CEO Stefani Pashman tossed out a rather startling bit of data to the audience at the African American Chamber of Commerce PowerBreakfast: “There are no zip codes (in Pittsburgh) where African Americans have the dominant income.”
On Feb. 26, she was among those in attendance as the Pittsburgh Black Elected Officials Coalition released its policy and action recommendations to improve conditions for the bulk of Black Pittsburghers.
Those conditions are summarized in data collected by Victoria Zuber of PublicSource as part of its “Let’s Talk About Race” project. First, the data notes that the city’s Black population is now at 24 percent. Census data shows Pittsburgh’s Black population at 26 percent in 1990, jumping up to 28 percent in 2000. While another article in the series notes that gentrification in East Liberty has replaced a large portion of the Black population with more affluent Whites, it didn’t note that more than 2,000 Blacks were displaced almost 20 years ago when three massive public housing high-rise buildings were demolished. Less than half the units were replaced, but the people were already gone.
This occurred at the direction of the city’s public housing authority and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. This dispersion of the Black population—in public housing—also occurred in the upper, lower and middle Hill District and in Garfield.
As a result, through 2016, according to PublicSource, Blacks occupied just 30 percent of the 69,514 rental units in the city. When it comes to owner-occupied units, Blacks account for only 16 percent.
The Black population is smaller, more diffuse, and according to the statistics, poorer:
•Black median household income is $26,108—trailing Asians, Latinos—and is half that of Whites.
•Black unemployment was 16 percent, more than twice the rate for Whites and Latinos and five times the rate for Asians in the city;
•Of the city’s 70,000 Black residents, 34 percent are living below the poverty level, and;
•Blacks account for 54 percent of Pittsburghers receiving SNAP (food stamps).
State Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Hill, who convened the PBEOC—with fellow state Rep. Ed Gainey, County Councilman Dewitt Walton and Pittsburgh Councilmen Danny Lavelle and Rev. Ricky Burgess—two years ago, is the only Black state representative whose district lies entirely within the City of Pittsburgh. He is quite aware of the statistics.
“If you reviewed my district, it is a very diverse district along racial lines as well as income. However, I speak to issues that confront these statistics every day—education, redistribution of wealth and power influences, business supports, and illusionary policies, etc. Those are what’s needed,” Rep. Wheatley told the New Pittsburgh Courier in an exclusive interview.
Walton said the coalition’s Phase Two recommendations—driven by multiple community meetings to prioritize their focus—released at the meeting are aligned with addressing the dismal economic picture.
“The issues that Black communities face today are similar somewhat in scope to what it faced 50 years ago; however, today the ladder to empowerment and self-sufficiency has moved,” he said. “Our society has embraced technology as never before and education is the currency that society is measuring us by.”
Representative Gainey took a different approach. He was very pleased to see Pashman in attendance, along with Poise Foundation President Mark Lewis and Pittsburgh Foundation President and CEO Maxwell King—because they need to be part of the conversation about solutions, he said.
“I’ve seen reports on those numbers, and there’s a lot of despair,” he said. “But what I have yet to see is a report on Black assets in Pittsburgh. Where are African Americans working and succeeding? What industries are offering a path for African Americans? Where are they getting hired?”
Gainey said that’s why he has events celebrating community businesses that have stood the test of time, and individuals who are blazing new entrepreneurial trails.
“Painting pictures of despair doesn’t help us market or drive the change. We can show people there is a Black Pittsburgh that is invested in success,” he told the Courier exclusively.
“Black tech companies—that footprint has to be defined and nurtured, and we have to educate the community about these assets—and it all starts with education. I’m not here to talk about your disparity, I’m here to talk about educating you to take this opportunity.”
To that end, Gainey has scheduled a scholarship summit for next month (March) to bring funders together with families of eleventh and twelfth graders to make sure they haven’t missed out on funding that can bridge any scholarship gaps they may have.
“The Black assets are out there—we need to tell their story,” he said. “We need to sell success.”
The PBEOC Phase two report can be found at http://pbeoc.org.
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