Benchmark Report on the Region’s Quality of Life Finds Progress and Deficiencies

Issue Date: 
April 13, 2015

While Southwestern Pennsylvania continues to be a national model for economic recovery and public safety, the region still has major deficiencies in overcoming issues related to the environment, infrastructure, public health, and other matters that are key to quality of life for most Americans. This is the primary conclusion of a major analysis released April 8 by Pittsburgh Today, a regional indicators program based within the University of Pittsburgh’s University Center for Social and Urban Research. 

The 2015 Pittsburgh Today & Tomorrow Report compares Greater Pittsburgh with 14 other U.S. metropolitan areas and regions in 11 quality-of-life categories. The findings of the benchmark analysis provide a broad overlook of the region’s status on key areas of importance to Southwestern Pennsylvania’s citizenry. 

“We feel that this report provides the most comprehensive, in-depth view of how the region is doing and areas where it needs to improve to ensure a strong future,” said Douglas Heuck, director of Pittsburgh Today. 

The benchmark metropolitan areas and regions are Baltimore, Boston, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Philadelphia, Richmond, and St. Louis. Additional data and statistics from the annual regional report are available in the special reports section of the Pittsburgh Today Web site (

A sampling of the key findings from the report follows. 


Overall employment in Southwestern Pennsylvania is holding near all-time highs, and the unemployment rate has fallen to the 5 percent range —with the historic low of 4.1 percent a realistic possibility in the coming years if economic trends hold. The percentage of the population living in poverty stands at 12.8 percent, which is lower than the benchmark average of 13.6 percent. The region’s minority groups hold a significantly lower percentage of the region’s jobs compared with their counterparts in the other benchmark cities. 


More than 92 percent of Southwestern Pennsylvanians aged 25 or older have a high school diploma, a graduation percentage above all but one of the 14 other benchmark regions. Since 2011, the percentage of residents in the region with a college degree has increased from 29 to 32 percent, which is slightly below the benchmark regional average of 34 percent and well shy of the 45 percent of Boston-area residents with at least a bachelor’s degree. 


Air quality in Southwestern Pennsylvania has improved dramatically in the last few decades due to environmental advocacy, tighter governmental policies and regulatory enforcement, technological advances, and other efforts. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s three-year monitoring period from 2011 to 2013 shows Southwestern Pennsylvania consistently at or below the federal limit for pollution levels. Yet, the region still ranks near the bottom—13th of the 15 benchmark regions—in overall air quality. 

Public Health

More than 60 percent of Allegheny County residents are considered overweight or obese. Nearly one in four Pittsburgh citizens report not doing any type of exercise in the past month—only residents of Philadelphia, Indianapolis, and Detroit are less physically active among the benchmark cities. More than 22 percent of local residents are smokers, higher than the national average of 19 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Public Safety

Southwestern Pennsylvania’s overall regional crime rate is among the lowest of any of the benchmark regions and only Boston has a lower crime rate among the surveyed cities. The region’s rates of car theft and forcible rape are the lowest of the benchmark regions by a significant margin.


Nearly 20 percent of the bridges in Southwestern Pennsylvania are structurally deficient. Almost half of the roadways, per square mile, in the region are considered in mediocre or poor condition. Southwestern Pennsylvanians spend, on average, $432 a year in automobile maintenance and repairs due to poor road and infrastructure conditions. 

The 2015 Pittsburgh Today & Tomorrow Report also provides insightful information in the categories of Arts and Culture, Demographics, Government, Housing, and Sustainability. 

Founded in 2004, Pittsburgh Today seeks to create a more informed citizenry by providing timely and accurate statistical composites of the state of Southwestern Pennsylvania. The organization produces more than 400 regional indicators comparing the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area with regions across the country, and it produces in-depth journalistic reports based on those indicators, as well as state-of-the-art surveys. 

Pitt’s University Center for Social and Urban Research was established in 1972 as a resource for researchers and educators interested in the basic and applied social and behavioral sciences. As a hub for interdisciplinary research and collaboration, the center promotes a research agenda focused on the socio-economic and health issues most relevant to our society.