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How Pittsburgh’s Equity Commission Wants To Reverse The Gender Pay Gap

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
The city's Gender Equity Commission is working to reduce the gender pay gap, even in a pandemic. The executive director says they're targeting policy and training employees.

On today's program: The gender pay gap is worse for Black women in Pittsburgh, which is a problem the city’s Gender Equity Commission is trying to correct; and a law for conservatorship was enacted to reduce blight, but two reporters explain why it may be misused.

The pandemic’s effect on the gender pay gap
(0:00 - 9:58)

Women, particularly women of color, face an uphill battle to equal pay. The 2018 American Community Survey found that for each dollar a white man makes, white women make 79 cents, Black women make 62 cents and Latina women make 54 cents.

In Pittsburgh specifically, the gap between Black women and white men is even wider: Black women make 54 cents for every dollar made by a white man.

This income disparity means when something like a pandemic happens and people might lose their job and need access to their savings, women, particularly women of color, could have less of a safety net to rely on.

The city is trying to help close that pay gap with it’s in-house Gender Equity Commission. The commission’s Executive Director anupama jain says even in a pandemic, progress can be made.

The commission has suggested  a three-pronged approach to reduce the pay gap: empowering individuals to negotiate and advocate for themselves, engaging local employers, and improving policy.

“When I think about the pandemic, I want to make sure people are safe, have access to food, aren’t experiencing housing insecurity,” says jain. “So, things like salary negotiation might seem a little less important.”

But she says negotiation is most helpful for women because they’re often facing implicit bias, or a culture that disadvantages them in an office setting. Training, she says, empowers women and teaches them to have more leverage when they’re negotiating.

“We’re especially proud because this is for all Pittsburghers, and a pandemic is a really good time to help people feel like there are new skills they can learn,” jain says.

Despite the myriad issues the pandemic has brought on, jain says the commission is moving ahead to recommend bold ideas like universal childcare and a guaranteed income program.

“One thing people living in extreme poverty need? They need money,” says jain. “More than they need lots of forms to fill out and red tape, and expectations or stigma.”

The issue also goes beyond a paycheck, jain says. “You hear a lot of people say, ‘It’s not about race, it’s about socioeconomics, it’s about class. I think the answers are, it’s about both and more. I think it’s about who has been making policy, making decisions and for whom.”

How a law to reduce blight has become a way for landlords to pad portfolios
(10:05 - 18:00)

When Pennsylvania’s Abandoned and Blighted Property Conservatorship Act became law in 2008, it was intended to help nonprofits and neighbors address blighted and abandoned properties and bring them up to code.

In the dozen years since, some property owners and neighborhood advocates have criticized the law and the private developers that seemingly take advantage of it to build their Pittsburgh-area property portfolios.

Rich Lord, economic development reporter for Public Source, found at least two landlords in Wilkinsburg seeking conservatorship for more than two dozen properties combined. He also found a landlord in Trafford who sought to take control of 63 different properties across the county.

“It seems like, based on the roughly 190 cases for which we obtained data, it’s happening primarily in places that meet kind of two criteria,” says Lord. “They’ve got a fair number of abandoned or empty properties, and they’re relatively near to a hot market.”

He gives the example of Wilkinsburg: it’s western end is very close to Pittsburgh’s desirable East End markets.

In 2019, 90.5 WESA’s Kate Giammarise also wrote about this law for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and says those who support conservatorship would cite its usefulness.

“They point to cases where an owner is dead, an owner cannot be located, or someone is really neglecting property. They also would say it's a good alternative to the treasurer sale process which can be very lengthy,” says Giammarise. She says proponents might also reference the required judicial process as a reason why the law isn’t being misused. “I think the defenders of the law would say, every single case has to go before a judge,” says Giammarise.

“But if the law was really intended to solely attack properties that become nuisances to the community, there are signs that it may be being used a little bit differently,” adds Lord.

Lord recently covered a case in Wilkinsburg where the owner was trying to fix a property, but another landlord filed conservatorship, and sought to take it over. This case is currently still being disputed in court.

“I don’t know that COVID has, at this point,  increased dramatically the number of vacant properties,” says Lord. “But it certainly hasn’t curbed the ambition of some landlords to build their portfolios.”

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

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