The map below compares the poverty rates in each of Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods.
POVERTY IN PGH
People are estimated to live in poverty in Pittsburgh, and thousands more are affected by it. This includes Pittsburghers of all ages, races, and neighborhoods. At PCSI, we strive to understand how poverty truly impacts our city so that we can develop programs
to most effectively combat it.
Pittsburgh is a uniquely neighborhood-centric urban environment, and each of its neighborhoods have different cultures, attractions, and economic/social conditions. Some have higher rates of poverty, others lower, but there is no single area of poverty in Pittsburgh. In the majority of neighborhoods, at least one in five residents live in poverty. In some neighborhoods, more residents live in poverty than do not. Poverty and poverty-related issues span the geographic divides of the city and affect a significant number of residents of many neighborhoods throughout Pittsburgh.
All data in the above section come from the US Census Bureau's American Community Survey, accessed through the American Fact Finder tool.
BY THE NUMBERS
Poverty is a dynamic challenge. It affects people in Pittsburgh, around the US, and everywhere else. Some of our understanding of poverty and poverty-related issues in Pittsburgh comes from the analysis of various data. At PCSI, analyzing and understanding data on poverty is part of our work. We conduct a Community Needs Assessment, and update our programming, goals, and Strategic Plan in accordance with our constantly-evolving understanding of these issues.
RACE & POVERTY
The figure to the left shows the PGH’s poverty population and total population by race.
The African-American poverty rate is higher in Pittsburgh than the White poverty rate. (Similar disparities exist across the US.) However, because the majority of Pittsburghers consider themselves white, the White population makes up a slight majority of the population in poverty in the city. Both poverty rates for the two major racial groups in Pittsburgh are higher on average than in other large US cities. In other words, Pittsburgh’s White poverty and Pittsburgh’s Black poverty are worse than in comparably-sized cities, and our communities’ poverty-related challenges exist across racial lines.
AGE & POVERTY
The charts below show the percentage of PGH's poverty populations in each age group
Children (Under 18)
24.2% of Poverty Population 32.7% Poverty Rate
One in four people who were estimated to live in poverty in 2015 in Pittsburgh were children. And of the three age groups shown here, children had the highest rate of poverty at 32.7%. In other words, one in three children in the city live in poverty, but the population of young people in Pittsburgh is relatively small, and therefore young people make up only a quarter of the population in poverty.
68.1% of Poverty Population
22.7% Poverty Rate
The majority of people who live in poverty in Pittsburgh are 18 to 64 years of age. This is true partly because it is a significantly larger age group. But it is also worth considering that this roughly defines the years in which people are likely to join the workforce. A key takeaway from this data, therefore, is that although Pittsburgh’s population is aging, our “dependency ratio” does not explain our
Older Adults (65+)
7.8% of Poverty Population
12.4% Poverty Rate
While older adults are more likely to face various challenges in Pittsburgh and elsewhere, they have the lowest rate of poverty of these three age groups in Pittsburgh. They also represent a smaller (but growing) percentage of the total population than children or workforce-aged adults.
Poverty is a difficult and dynamic concept that comes in many layers. Traditional definitions and data (such as those used in the section above) are useful for analysis, but those numbers do not tell the full story. For many years, poverty in the US has generally been defined using income. Below a certain income threshold, a person or family is considered to be “in poverty.” Above that income threshold, they are not. Indeed, this definition of poverty is even central in PCSI’s work, for it determines the population that we are funded to serve as a Community Action Agency through the Community Services Block Grant program.
But the lived experience of poverty is not so easy to simplify, and fighting poverty and its impacts effectively requires an understanding that is deeper than those numbers. At PCSI, we strive to develop a robust understanding of the many faces and forms of poverty in Pittsburgh. In doing so, we often encounter misconceptions, such as the following:
Poverty is not binary, and many people live in temporary or near poverty.
The poverty rate in the United States has been more-or-less level for half a century—generally hovering around 12% to 15% of the US population since the “war on poverty” began. This means that at any given point in the last 50 years, roughly the same percentage of Americans had incomes below the poverty income threshold (which increases with inflation annually). These data are not incorrect, but they can be misleading. They might seem to imply that poverty tends to be consistent, but in many ways that is not true. They also fail to consider any factors beyond income or provide any distinction between varying degrees of poverty. People with greater-than-poverty income (which sometimes still means making well below a living wage) are simply “not in poverty” according to this binary definition. Anyone with less than poverty-level income is “in poverty”; this could include a range of circumstances from the absolutely dire to the relatively comfortable (for people with various non-income resources and other advantages).
The notion of a consistent poverty rate also leads to another important misconception: that poverty is experienced by a certain population of people—the “poor.” This is a false narrative. As author and professor Steven Pimpare explains, relatively few people (around 3% of Americans) face consistent long-term poverty. On the other hand, more than one in three Americans face occasional poverty (at least one two-month period of less than poverty-level income every three years). So even traditionally-defined poverty (income poverty), despite being widely discussed, is poorly understood. It affects more people than are captured by the so-called poverty rate. And many people who are not among those “in-poverty” at a given moment exist on the verge of poverty.
Poverty comes in many forms and is often difficult to spot.
Poverty encompasses a wide set of issues, and income poverty is only one form of the broader concept of poverty. Other forms of poverty include the following.
Relative Income/Economic Poverty
One individual or family might be able to live more easily at a certain level of income than another. This disparity can exist for many reasons, including different lifestyles, costs of living, non-monetary resources, and various other factors. It would be difficult to measure all of these differences consistently, but it is important to acknowledge that one number does not tell the full story of a person’s economic well-being.
A person or family’s income is only one part of their financial wellbeing. Wealth poverty refers to a more holistic consideration of financial resources and assets. The college student—from an affluent family—making $10,000 per year from their part-time job may be considered to live “in-poverty”, whereas the family of four making $30,000 per year with no savings and mounting health care bills may not. But a simple measure of income poverty does not do well to capture the level of hardship faced by these two examples.
Although the concept of poverty generally suggests primarily financial or economic hardship, the experience of poverty is often linked to a lack of other non-financial resources. One example is a person’s social network. If one lacks social resources, one experiences the effects of poverty. People living in communities with widespread economic poverty are more likely to face a lack of social resources, even if they receive above-poverty income. And living in social poverty makes one more likely to experience financial poverty.
Similar to social poverty, opportunity poverty refers to a lack of non-financial resources, which is closely related to economic wellbeing. People from different communities, racial backgrounds, and with various other characteristics can face disadvantages that others do not—including access to work and education.
Poverty is sticky.
In addition to the misconception that poverty is a consistent experience that affects a specific group of Americans, common measures of poverty seem to imply that poverty is merely a present-tense challenge. Unfortunately, the experience of poverty presents on-going challenges, which often continue even for those who are no longer facing poverty. Living with poverty once makes it more likely that someone will end up in poverty again once they have left poverty. This is especially worrying given the high rates of childhood poverty throughout the US. Furthermore, even for people who move past poverty and are fortunate enough not to return, the effects of poverty can remain. And those who experience poverty will often continue to suffer from its lasting impact. With at least a third of Americans experiencing occasional poverty, the number of people in our community and others who are suffering the effects of poverty far exceeds the figures shown in traditional data.
The foundation of today’s poverty is rooted in yesterday’s injustice.
Poverty cannot and should not be attributed to a singular cause. It results from many factors. Nonetheless, the role that the historical (and current) oppression of various groups of people has played in shaping today's inequality cannot be ignored. To understand the infrastructure of inequality on which poverty is built, one must consider the events that have shaped our society and culture. The video below discusses some of these issues, primarily along the lines of race. At PCSI, we seek to understand how the oppression and marginalization of various people (along the lines of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, ability, and other factors) has contributed to inequality and poverty in Pittsburgh today.
Want to hear more? Listen to Dr. John Powell's Discussion on 'Otherness' & Mia Birdsong's TED Talk on the Truth About Poverty
We are Anti-Poverty. Join Us.
We work to understand poverty in Pittsburgh so that we can better fight it. But it will take more than understanding to win that fight, and we need your help. Join us. Come visit us. Support us with your donation. Volunteer your time or expertise. Or just click below to let us know you're with us. We'll be in touch.