And Pittsburgh is good; there is a lot to love from relatively low costs of living, to good sports teams, to lots of close-knit communities.
But those things don’t make this place perfect. The region struggles with racism, xenophobia, lack of investment in some areas, and gentrification in others. And the Pittsburgh Pirates.
So when a random job recruiting site — Zippia, in this instance — proclaimed the Steel City the “happiest city in Pennsylvania,” our only response was: HAHAHAHAHAHAHA, no.
According to Zippia, whose list is really just links to job searches in whichever city one clicks on, happiness was measured in five metrics: Population with at least a bachelor’s degree, percentage of households earning above $75,000 a year, median home prices, commute times, and marriage rates.
Skimming past the fairly offensive ideas that you have to go to college or be married to be happy, the other ideas are basically economic. Pittsburgh does have relatively low median home prices, and our average commute times are pretty good. Earnings here are lower, but there are plenty of nice areas and suburbs where household earnings are well above $75,000.
So, in a vacuum, following these guidelines, it makes sense why Zippia would rate Pittsburgh so high for happiness. But this metric completely ignores one of Pittsburgh’s worst problems: racial and economic inequality.
Studies have shown Pittsburgh is one of the worst cities in the U.S. for Black people, particularly Black women. Infant mortality rates among Black people are embarrassingly high. How does losing children affect the happiness index?
Not to mention that even though Pittsburgh has relatively low commute times, that doesn’t always translate to our low-income and Black neighborhoods. In these spaces, it’s not uncommon to have to take two or three buses on an over 60-minute commute just to get to work at a low-wage service job. The Pennsylvania minimum wage is still $7.25 an hour, and municipalities like Pittsburgh legally can’t raise it, thanks to state exemption rules.
Pittsburgh also lacks a Black middle-class neighborhood, even though the city and region regularly churns out talented, ambitious, world-class Black professionals. The lack of opportunity in Pittsburgh to help Black people build a better life is a main contributor to why Black people are leaving Pittsburgh in droves.
How can a city be happy when a significant section of its population is looking to leave?
Not only that, Pittsburgh is one of the worst regions in America at attracting immigrants. And it figures. Just this week, Pennsylvania Second Lady Gisele Fetterman, who is an immigrant and naturalized citizen, was accosted at a local ALDI and called the n-word by a woman she recorded on video.
The metro area also has one of the lowest percentage of foreign-born residents in the nation. And that is when foreign-born residents are driving growth in many other cities like Phoenix, Denver, and Austin. If Pittsburgh is so perfectly happy, why aren’t new arrivals banging down the door to move here?
On top of all these problems, Pittsburghers have this perfect happiness index and still suffer from some of the nation’s worst air quality. Studies have estimated that Pittsburgh had the fourth most air-pollution related deaths of any region in America.
Take a big whiff of that happiness.
But, again, there are some really spectacular things about Pittsburgh. It’s a great place to walk to work. It has some of the highest percentages of tree cover than any city in the U.S. (Everyone loves trees.) And the Pittsburgh Steelers are consistently good, and even undefeated so far this season. So maybe it is a really, really happy place to be.
But that perfect, metrically defined happiness likely only extends to a small sliver of Pittsburghers. For the rest of us, there is still plenty keeping us down.