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Report: Racial inequality in metro St. Louis continues to outrank most of the country

The St. Louis Metro is in the top 10 for racial inequality in three areas.
courtesy East-West Gateway Council of Governments

The St. Louis region continues to have some of the highest rates of racial disparity in the country.

Out of the 50 largest metro areas in the country, St. Louis ranks in the top 10 for racial disparity in poverty, unemployment and infant mortality, according to the new edition of the Where We Stand report released Wednesday by the East-West Gateway Council of Governments.

St. Louis has had similarly poor rankings when it comes to racial disparities in previous versions of the report, which compares the region to other urban areas in categories ranging from economics to education.

“It’s entitled ‘Where We Stand,’ and I think that is part of the issue. It’s ‘Where We Stand,’ and we’ve been standing here for a long time … We don’t need to be standing. We need to be moving forward,” said St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, who joined East-West Gateway’s executive committee this year when he took over as county executive.

Stenger said he has used county-level data similar to that found in the report to inform action during the first seven months of his administration, including investing more than $100 million from the county’s Children Service Fund and other county funds to reduce what he called the county’s “pockets of poverty.”

He also pointed to regional collaboration to reduce poverty, including the designation of north St. Louis and St. Louis County as a federal promise zone and the selection of West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson as the region’s next Great Streets project.

“I can tell you within the first seven months of my administration I am really proud of the work we have done in advancing this cause of breaking apart the dynamics that lead to the disparities that we see in this report,” Stenger said.

East-West Gateway board chair Mark Kern said the Where We Stand report is valuable because it helps people make informed decisions.

“A report like this is essential because it tells us where we are and where we need to go.  We know that we’ve got a lot of work to do, some of which can be done right at this table, much of which is done in other parts of the community. But we realize that only with the understanding of where we are today can we move forward,” said Kern, who has been part of the East-West Gateway board since he became St. Clair County Board Chairman in 2004.

Kern said previous versions of the Where We Stand report played a role in the decision to extend MetroLink into St. Clair County.

“We’re the only county in Illinois that has MetroLink capabilities. I think that was brought there because we have transportation issues. We have people that need a ride to work or need a ride to the hospital,” Kern said. “Where we put that rail was certainly where the need was greatest.” 

St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann said the report is a sign that the region needs to work harder to create jobs. According to the report, the St. Louis metro area has increased jobs at less than half the rate of the country since 2010, with a 2.6 percent increase compared to a 6.7 percent increase nationwide.

“When a business comes to St. Charles they don’t think in terms of coming to St. Charles. They think of coming to the St. Louis region. We’ve got a lot of advantages out there in terms of transportation access and rail access, which allows us to be in a position to grow but it doesn’t do us any good to grow at the expense of other parts of the region. We need to grow at the expense of the rest of the country,” Ehlmann said.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay did not attend Wednesday’s East-West Gateway Council of Governments meeting.

The Where We Stand report ranked St. Louis across a total of 222 indicators in 13 categories. According to the report, The St. Louis metro area compares favorably with other major cities when it comes to getting high school and college degrees. 

Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.