Black people are the most vulnerable cogs in the wheel, and remain in a permanent state of crisis. If Black people remain vulnerable, no one in America’s so-called democracy is safe. The problem is institutionalized racism, in a country which fails to acknowledge there is a crisis. And yet, another study on a major American city sounds the alarm on the barriers facing Black people. This time it’s Black men in Pittsburgh.
The study from the Urban Institute is titled, “Barriers & Bridges: An Action Plan for Overcoming Obstacles and Unlocking Opportunities for African American Men in Pittsburgh.” The 67-page report found that in the post-industrial economy in which Pittsburgh is thriving, based particularly on a shift from manufacturing to finance and health services, hiring practices that shut out people of color have kept Black men from economic opportunity.
The Urban Institute Report focuses primarily on documenting the racial disparities between Black and white men in their access to jobs, financial services, and business development opportunities. It also identified structural barriers in the form of policies, practices, and norms that help maintain racial gaps.
“Though economic disadvantage befalls people of all races and ages, young African American men have borne a disproportionate share of the burden of Pittsburgh’s economic change,” the report’s authors wrote. “Although never fully equal, the well-paying manufacturing jobs that many African American men were able to secure with only a high school diploma (or sometimes less education) have virtually disappeared, leaving many men with few alternatives for adequately supporting a family.”
According to the study, city leaders realize the need to change the way Pittsburgh does business, which contributes to the considerable racial disparities. The city wants to attract more employers and industries, and suffers from a “mid-level skills gap,” in which employees have been on the job for either 40 or more years, or less than five years. Further, the city’s interest in racial inclusion is driven by younger workers, who want to live in places that reflect America’s racial and ethnic diversity.
Intergenerational mobility was identified as a factor leading to racial exclusion, as unions kept out African-American workers, leaving Black children lacking in the resources their white peers receive to acquire the skills the new workforce demands. Black men in particular, have suffered from structural barriers, including current institutional practices, geographic segregation, social isolation from critical networks, and economic and other accumulated disadvantages resulting from a lack of access to employment, education, and other opportunities.
In Pittsburgh, the consequences of these barriers are clear. African-American men are 11.4 percent of men ages 18 to 64 in the Pittsburgh region, yet they are a mere 5.4 percent of the region’s adult male workforce. The report also found that in many key industries, Black workers find themselves at the bottom of the pay scale. Moreover, the report notes that “Pittsburgh’s African American men have historically and disproportionately faced unprecedented barriers to economic opportunities” among people living in the region. For Black men with at least a high school diploma, the unemployment rate between 2007 and 2011 was 12.2 percent, more than double that of whites (5.1 percent). In addition, Black men are far more likely to live at or below the poverty level.
“Structural barriers such as the expense of job training programs, online job applications (for men without easy access to a computer), and insufficient financial collateral to qualify for a business loan are very real for men who disproportionately struggle to make ends meet,” the report noted.
“You have people who are disproportionately touched by the criminal justice system — sometimes unfairly — and they are disproportionately excluded from health care and other security-sensitive sectors,” Urban Institute fellow Margaret Simms told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Simms called the city “one of the most segregated metropolitan communities in the country,” split along historical racial divides that still shape neighborhoods, the workforce and professional and social networks.
This latest study is but one of numerous reports that chronicle the impact of institutional racism on the well-being of African-Americans. For example, a recent study found that in Baltimore, banks are cheating Black people out of mortgages based primarily on race rather than income. Companies use the court system to pursue collection lawsuits to target Black communities and squeeze them financially. Further, due to race-based predatory lending, Black homeowners lost wealth as whites gained wealth, cutting them out of the so-called American Dream. The police financially exploit communities of color, as one Oklahoma study found that Blacks and other minorities accounted for two-thirds of the cash seizures by law enforcement.
In addition, the racial disparities in health care are evident, as Blacks and Latinos receive lower quality care and are made to wait longer to see the doctor, and Black children are less likely to receive crucial pain medication than whites in the emergency room.
The studies are endless, all with similarly disappointing and alarming findings. The reports will continue to mount if America fails to address the fundamentals of systemic racial discrimination, and seek to eradicate them immediately.