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Economic mobility important for region post-Ferguson

(Flickr, Paul Sableman)

Closing economic disparities in the St. Louis region is one key to moving past Ferguson.

That was the message at a panel discussion Thursday called "Eight Months Post-Ferguson: The Journey from Recovery to Rebuilding." Several of the panelists said sharp economic contrasts contributed to issues in Ferguson, but are even more stark in other communities.

"Issues of race are important but also economic class that interacts with race," said University of Missouri-St. Louis professor Todd Swanstrom. "So if we don’t understand how those interact, we won’t be able to solve the issues."

A professor of community collaboration and public policy, Swanstrom said communities where home values have stagnated need other ways to raise revenue rather than fees and traffic tickets. One solution, he said, is to extend MetroLink north and south, so that wealth is distributed out of the central corridor.

"That would provide people with a connection to opportunities in the region, because many of these communities are isolated from opportunities," he said.

Moving up the economic rung in St. Louis can be hard, according to Reverend Starsky Wilson, co-chairman of the Ferguson Commission and president and CEO of the Deaconess Foundation. He cited a study by Harvard Professor RajChetty that found St. Louis ranks 42nd out of 50 metropolitan areas in terms of economic mobility.

"That means it’s more difficult for someone here to get from the bottom rungs to the top rungs of the economic ladder than it is just about anywhere," Wilson said.

He also cited the For the Sake of Allstudy that found the region has stark differences in unemployment levels and even life expectancy when comparing zip codes.

Wilson also said better transportation linking people with jobs is a necessity. But he also wants to see better wages in the area, including a minimum wage of $15/hour.

Thursday's event was sponsored by Women’s Voice Raised for Social Justice, The Community Against Poverty (CAP) coalition (a program of the Jewish Community Relations Council)  and the National Council of Jewish women St. Louis Section.

Follow Maria on Twitter: @radioaltman

Maria is the newscast, business and education editor for St. Louis Public Radio.