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March 19, 2015

City lacking in labor diversity

On the convery

Minorities in the Pittsburgh region — African Americans, Asians and Hispanics — hold just 11 percent of jobs here, the lowest among 15 comparable American metro regions against which Pittsburgh was benchmarked in a new report from the Workforce Diversity Indicators Initiative.

That’s less than half the average of 25 percent, and this lack of employment diversity may hurt Pittsburgh when it comes to attracting new companies and holding on to new minority families, the report concluded. It could adversely affect a region that is already “the whitest of our benchmark regions … unusually white,” at 86.4 percent of the region’s population, said Douglas Heuck, director of Pittsburgh Today, which led the report’s rollout on March 5 at the University Club.

The region’s largest minority group, African Americans, are 8.2 percent of the region’s population.

The initiative, led by Vibrant Pittsburgh, includes the University Center for Social and Urban Research and the Center on Race and Social Problems in Pitt’s School of Social Work.

The report, “Behind the Times: The Limited Role of Minorities in the Greater Pittsburgh Workforce,” benchmarked Pittsburgh against Atlanta, Richmond, Charlotte, Cleveland, Baltimore, Detroit, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Denver. Available online at, it found that:

• White non-Hispanics hold 89 percent of the jobs in the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA); African Americans have 7 percent; Hispanics and Asians hold 2 percent each, and the remaining 1 percent of jobs are held by people in other categories.

• Pittsburgh’s MSA ranks second in pay for all minority workers, with average monthly wages for minorities at $3,948 and for whites at $4,047, following only Detroit, which pays $4,038 to minorities and $4,700 to whites. The average for the 15 regions is $3,597 for minorities and $4,646 for whites. At the bottom of the list is Kansas City, with $3,162 for minorities and $4,087 for whites.

• However, Pittsburgh’s MSA  is fourth from the bottom for African-American worker income, paying average monthly wages of $2,666 for blacks and $4,047 for whites. Baltimore heads the list, with $3,147 for blacks and $5,020 for whites, while St. Louis trails farthest behind, with $2,395 for blacks and $4,324 for whites.

• For Hispanic/Latino and Asian worker income, the Pittsburgh MSA tops both lists, with its relatively small minority populations of Hispanics/Latinos and Asians earning average monthly incomes of $3,661 and $6,271 respectively.

• Minorities gained only 2 percent more jobs in the Pittsburgh MSA from 2002 through 2013. Atlanta’s minority jobs growth was largest over the same period, at 7 percent, while minorities in Cincinnati and Denver lost 1 percent of jobs during that time.

• The differences in the kinds of jobs minorities hold compared to whites, and the wages paid in those industries, are “significant” throughout America but especially in the Pittsburgh MSA, says the report.

In Pittsburgh, minorities hold 20 percent of jobs in the administrative and support services sector, which encompasses employment in everything from marketing to security and cleaning/maintenance. In this sector, they have an average monthly income of $2,761, which is almost the lowest among all industries. The lowest average income ($1,442 a month) is for minority workers in the accommodation and food service industry, which has the second-highest percentage of minority workers in the Pittsburgh region — 16 percent.

Minority workers are paid best in health care and the social assistance sector, at $4,560 a month, topping white coworkers, and hold 14 percent of the jobs there. Minority workers in the mining, oil and gas industries make an average of more than $8,300 a month, but hold only 5 percent of the jobs in those industries — their lowest representation locally.

• Almost 18 percent of African Americans in the Pittsburgh region “say they often or always have trouble paying monthly bills for basic needs, such as housing and utilities — more than twice the hardship rate residents of other races report. African Americans [in the Pittsburgh metro region] are much less likely to own a house. And they are more likely to skip a doctor visit in the past year because they couldn’t afford it and to live in neighborhoods they consider to be less safe than others.”

• While the region’s foreign-born residents are among the most highly educated in the nation, they represent only 3.8 percent of the local population, compared to almost 13 percent of the U.S. population.

Said Melanie Harrington, president and CEO of Vibrant Pittsburgh: “To solve this and address this issue” of low diversity in the Pittsburgh workforce, “it really takes the entire community engaged in various solutions involved around this issue.” Her group, which aims to attract new U.S. immigrants to the city, plans next to engage the local community “to do some things to change the trend. Other regions that have had success … have had at their forefront political leadership,” she pointed out.

Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald, in highlighting his own recent efforts and that of the city’s mayor, said: “This challenge that we have in this region is a different challenge than we’ve had. The challenge that we have is needing workers.

“We have the jobs,” he added, estimating that the city will require 140,000 workers in the coming years just to replace the 55- to 65-year-olds who are retiring. Imagine Pittsburgh, the city’s job board, currently is advertising 25,000 jobs.

But James Futrell, vice president for market research and analysis at the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, remarked that “it is increasingly hard to find workers with the right skills … so it’s important for us to attract a more diverse population to help fill in the population gap.”

Diversity begets diversity, Harrington said; thus, Pittsburgh needs to make more visible the diversity we do have.

Said Vera Krekanova Krofcheck, director of strategy and research for the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board: “We need to be honest with who can succeed here… We’re struggling with upward mobility,” making it even more necessary for higher-wage industries to create pathways for minorities to succeed.

The cost of living is also relatively low here. Does it matter as a recruitment factor for minorities? asked Heuck.

“I’m sure it factors in,” said Krofcheck. “But, long-term, it’s the issue, ‘Will we be able to make it here professionally?’”

If jobs are concentrated in industries without much growth or advancement potential, “there might not be an awareness of other types of jobs available through the Pittsburgh region,” said Gabriella Gonzalez, a sociologist with RAND Corp.

However, she added: “I’m hopeful that this report … can be a catalyst not only for the region’s employers … but for people living here, and of course people outside the region, to say, ‘This is a situation I can take advantage of.’”

—Marty Levine