Pittsburgh Is Rapidly Losing Black Residents, Population Estimates Show

Dec 20, 2019

The population of the City of Pittsburgh has stabilized, according to five-year estimates just out from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey. However, the same data show a rapid loss of the city’s black residents.

Nearly 7,000 black residents moved out of Pittsburgh between 2014 and 2018, compared to the previous five-year period. While some parts of the city gained residents, East End neighborhoods, such as East Liberty, Garfield and Central and Upper Lawrenceville, saw concentrated decline, said Chris Briem, a regional economist with the University of Pittsburgh.

“The decline in the African American population is just faster than I’ve seen recorded in recent decades,” he said.

He noted that all data lags behind events on the ground, which means the recent estimates likely don’t fully describe the extent of the changes.

“A lot of the major developments that I think are pushing this, forcing these changes, have come in very recent years and so aren’t even fully reflected in this data,” he said. “Over the next few years you’re going to see these trends [continue], they’re not about to stop.”

Population gains in Allegheny County outside of Pittsburgh reflect the movement of people out of the city, said Briem.

The new data did not surprise Carl Redwood. A community organizer with the Hill District Consensus Group, Redwood has followed population trends for a long time. In an analysis he made of data from 1980 to 2010, he said the city lost an average of three black people every day. The problem is simple, said Redwood: rent is too high and wages are too low. But addressing the problem will take time and intention.

“We have to have a vision of what we’re trying to do. How do we make it right?” he said. “What would a housing policy and an urban policy that is really just and equitable and fair, what should it look like?”

Redwood said the last few decades have seen the destruction of public housing and a growing wealth gap. He urged the city to adopt a policy that would require thirty percent of new residential construction to be affordable to people making 50 percent or less of the area median income.

“Housing is a human right,” he said. “The priorities are just wrong, that’s what the problem is.”

But it’s not just a Pittsburgh problem, he said, it’s a federal problem, too, and will require federal as well as local action.

The loss of black residents happened even as Pittsburgh’s population seemed to stabilize. The city gained more than 8,000 new residents between the ages of 25 and 44. Surrounding counties continue to grow older.