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US Census Data Show How Pittsburgh’s Racial And Ethnic Population Changed

Sarah Kovash
90.5 WESA

On today’s program: Pitt economist Chris Briem weighs in on what Census data reveals about how Pittsburgh’s population has changed since the previous count; the city’s 311 manager explains what happens after someone submits a request, and how the process has improved over the last 15 years; and a look at the impacts of the federal student loan moratorium on the finances of residents.

Census reveals Pittsburgh population is declining, but certain demographics are increasing
(0:00 - 7:50)

The new Census Bureau numbers indicate that the city of Pittsburgh’s population dropped by 0.9% in the last decade, while Allegheny County’s rose 2.2%

The city’s decline was expected by many, and some say the release of census data was confirmation of population trends.

“The top line numbers are fairly stable, at least with the city, … but there’s certainly change going on in the characteristics of the city’s population that are much larger,” says Chris Briem, regional economist and demographer with the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Social and Urban Research.

The city’s overall population remained over 300,000 residents. The number of individuals in the city who identify as Black dropped by more than 10,000, but in Allegheny County, outside of the city, that population rose by more than 12,000 residents.

“Within Allegheny County it’s pretty clear the Black population has been moving into the close suburbs here,” says Briem. “That is a trend that’s been going on for several decades but it certainly is faster in the last decade.”

In the city, the Asian-identifying population rose by 47%, Hispanic-identifying increased by 67% and those who identify with two or more races increased by 134%.

Briem says this data is just the beginning, as the census has not yet released all of the data collected yet. Future data will include reports on over and undercounts that may have occurred in the area.

Pittsburgh’s 311 service turns 15 years old
(7:58 - 14:41) 

When you see a car parked on a curb cut or a delivery truck stalled in a protected bike lane or other non-emergency situations such as potholes and graffiti you are encouraged to report it to 311. But what actually happens after you hit submit or hang up the phone?

“We used to have to look up every pothole manually, [or] every time something came in from the police, figure out which of the six zones it went to,” says Wendy Urbanic, manager of 311 for the city.

Now, the 311 works with a geographic information system, which makes the process a lot quicker by identifying the location and type of issues and sending the request to the right department.

Urbanic says requests tend to vary by season or current events. For example, she says there have been a lot of weed and debris calls lately, likely connected to recent rainfall.

Urbanic says the process has been streamlined with multiple ways for people to make requests, from phone, to a smartphone app, to social media. The department receives about 100,000 requests a year, the majority of which come through via phone.

“Calls are still the number one method to get a hold of us, but we’ve been really excited by how popular our Twitter account has become” says Urbanic. “If we have more channels available, I want to make sure that we’re as inclusive as possible and that anyone can contact us, regardless of their circumstances.”

Federal student loan moratorium
(14:45 - 22:30) 

The Biden administration extended the Federal Student Loan payment freeze until January 2022, meaning people with federal student loans don’t have to make payments and no interest will accrue during this period.

For over 40 million borrowers carrying such debt nationwide, this could be a chance to catch their breath.

“I’ve had clients who have been able to direct the payments they would have been making to their federal student loans to their private student loans, or other debt,” says Alicia Donner, a financial counselor with the Pittsburgh Financial Empowerment Center. “But if you lost income or experienced other hardship due to the pandemic, that would affect your ability to pay your private student loans.”

The payment freeze does not apply to all federal loan borrowers, says Donner. Those with loans under the Federal Family Education Loan Program and Perkins loans still have to continue making payments.

Donner says the monthly amount people owe varies, as some clients are on income-driven repayments, which might mean paying up to 20% of income toward loans, and others with private loans may be on a ten-year payment plan.

“About 90% of my clients have some sort of student debt,” says Donnor. “I have clients who are earning six figures as lawyers or doctors, ... but then I also have lots of clients who maybe started at CCAC [Community College of Allegheny County], or never graduated from college and still have student loan debt from that year or two or even just a semester that they still have to pay off.”

Donner says many people are afraid of getting the full picture of finances, but says she encourages clients to assess their current financial state and what their goals are.

“Money is a tool to help us get what we want and need, and help us exist in our society, but for too many people it’s a really scary thing that we don’t want to think about.”

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.

Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm
Marylee is the editor/producer of The Confluence, the daily public affairs show on WESA. She got her start in journalism at The Daily Reveille and KLSU while attending Louisiana State University. She took her passion for audio journalism to UC Berkeley's graduate program and worked in public radio at WPR in Madison, WI, and WOSU in Columbus, Ohio.
Laura Tsutsui is a producer for The Confluence, WESA's morning news show. Previously, she reported on the San Joaquin Valley with the NPR affiliate station in her hometown of Fresno, California. She can be reached at ltsutsui@wesa.fm.
Rebecca Reese is a production assistant for The Confluence.
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