Pittsburgh downtown image by Brian Cohen.

We’re often described as the most livable city in America. But a new study from the RAND Corporation found that “significant disparities” between races, genders and economic classes continue to define life in the City of Pittsburgh.

The report, entitled Pittsburgh Equity Indicators, is the second in what city officials say will be an annual study designed to inform development efforts across a wide variety of sectors.

“While significant disparities still exist, the city is now able to use the annual indicators update to track how outcomes may change with the introduction of new investments and to determine where to target resources to attempt to close gaps,” the report explains.

Pittsburghers are still experiencing inequitable access to opportunities and outcomes, according to the report, represented by an overall city equality score of 55 that did not change from the last report in 2017.

There were some improvements in certain areas, including public safety, student success and discipline, infrastructure quality and investment, and civic engagement (grassroots and city-led).

In contrast, the report continues, results show greater inequality in other metrics, including health outcomes, household income, and poverty.

Income and poverty was the topic with the largest change score (–10) making it the third-lowest equality score (28) and indicating that inequality was increasing for key economic outcome measures, says the report.

Between the last period and the current one surveyed,  28 indicator scores improved, 35 worsened, and 17 remained the same.

A few key takeaways:

  • While median household incomes and poverty rates improved for white residents, they continue to decline for African-Americans in Pittsburgh.
  • Homicide victimization rates are down significantly among African-American residents and went down slightly for white residents in the year since the 2017 survey.
  • Civic engagement among African-Americans rose in 2018 relative to their white neighbors, especially for community development and volunteer programs.
  • Access to quality childcare improved across all demographic groups. And children’s asthma hospitalization rates are falling across the county. But the reductions in asthma hospitalization are more modest among African-American children.

Another finding worth noting: There has been a marked increase in the number of traffic accidents occurring in higher-income sections of the city.  According to the report, the Strip District is the main driver of the trend. “This neighborhood has experienced commercial and demographic changes in the past couple of years,” reads the report, “with more businesses and residents locating there. The increased pedestrian and bicycle traffic that often accompanies these changes may explain some of the observed increase.”

For the most part, numbers held steady from the last report, with scores improving in certain areas. Still, the report’s authors note that disparities between white and black residents in economic and health outcomes remain severe and in some cases became more pronounced in the last 12 months.

In an interview with NEXTpittsburgh, RAND Policy Analyst Linnea Warren May says she looks forward to using the new data as a springboard for more in-depth research.

“Moving forward, we want to look at what are the structural and systemic factors that are leading to these things,” May says. “These things have been sort of analyzed to death at this point, and it’s nice to track over time. But from our perspective, getting more into the upstream drivers is what’s interesting.”

While the data gathered in the report will be applied to a wide variety of existing programs, the report says the findings will also inform the planning for the OnePGH fund.

Mayor Peduto has been touting OnePGH’s urban investment for much of the past year, describing it as a way for partners outside the government to help fund upgrades to infrastructure and emergency services without raising taxes. But key details such as the cooperation of our city’s major nonprofits have yet to be revealed.

When asked about negotiations with UPMC, CMU, Highmark and the University of Pittsburgh on such a fund, Mayoral spokesperson Tim McNulty told us: “Talks with the ‘big four’ have been positive and ongoing.”

The data from the 2017 report informed several ambitious city programs over the last year, including investing $10 million in the Housing Opportunity Fund and the citywide Financial Empowerment Center program.

“This analysis is a start towards untangling the deep roots of inequality that exist in this city,” said Mayor Bill Peduto in a press release about the new report.”By integrating the Equity Indicators into our work, we are aligning budgets, staff and policies to increase effectiveness and efficiency, and providing a government that better serves the people, planet, place and performance of this great city.”

RAND has been involved in the measurement of equity goals in the city since 2015. The study, with funding from the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities Fund, uses an equity framework designed by the City University of New York’s Institute for State and Local Governance, which includes everything from education and crime measurements to environmental benchmarks.

Check out the full report here.

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.