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Not 'Knocking It Out Of The Park': Examining The 2018 St. Louis Equity Indicators Report

A group known as Better Together is proposing a plan to merge St. Louis and St. Louis County. They're planning to get the measure on the 2020 ballot.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

In January 2018, concerns over whether city resources are equally distributed among the entire population prompted an effort to measure equity between black and white St. Louisans. The results are in after a year of the Equity Indicators project: St. Louis scored a 46 out of 100.

The Equity Indicators tool measures racial equity across 72 indicators, focusing on priority areas selected by the Ferguson Commission: youth at the center, opportunity to thrive, and justice for all.

At the time of the launch, Project Manager Cristina Garmendia explained why the city leaders thought the Equity Indicators project was important.

“This project provides an opportunity to develop a common set of goals and measurements to guide institutional decision-making and empower residents to hold us accountable to the priorities identified by the community in the Forward Through Ferguson report,” Garmendia said.

TheEquity Indicators project is a collaboration between the City University of New York’s Institute for State and Local Governance, The Rockefeller Foundation and 100 Resilient Cities. Organizers selected St. Louis and four other cities to use the tool that was first implemented in New York City. The other cities are: Pittsburgh; Dallas; Tulsa, Oklahoma and Oakland, California. 

Selected equity scores by topic:

  • Court reform: 40
  • Child well-being: 26
  • Financial empowerment: 40
  • Neighborhoods: 48
  • Policing: 54

The highest indicator score for the city is civic engagement, at 61 out of a possible 100.
More: Read the Equity Indicators Baseline Report

Black children are nearly four times as likely as white children to live in households with incomes at or below the poverty line. -2018 St. Louis Equity Indicators Report

Karishma Furtado of Forward Through Ferguson was among the people who worked on the report. Furtado talked with St. Louis Public Radio’s Holly Edgell about what the score means for St. Louis.

Holly Edgell: This is described as a baseline report. What does that mean?

Karishma Furtado: It’s intended to be a tool that’s updated every year so that we can really use this to see progress as it’s happening, where it might not be happening and where we should be focusing efforts and learning and pushing for more improvement. It’s just year one, so hopefully there will be many years to come.

Edgell: So how did we do overall? How does St. Louis fare in this baseline report?

Furtado: You know, not stellar. I don’t think anyone thought we’d be knocking it out of the park.

The scores can range from zero — which means complete disparity between black St. Louisans and white St. Louisans — all the way up to 100 — which would be perfect equity, equality or sameness in outcomes. [The result] suggests to us that we sure could be doing worse, but there’s a lot of work left to be done.

Karishma Furtado of Forward through Ferguson worked on the 2018 St. Louis Equity Indicators Project published in January 2019.
Credit David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio
Karishma Furtado of Forward through Ferguson worked on the 2018 St. Louis Equity Indicators Project.

Edgell: How realistic would it be to reach 100? That seems like a pretty lofty goal.

Furtado: I think it is more a conceptual goal than anything, because I think numbers are only ever numbers. If we picked a different 72 indicators, we would probably see a slightly different number. So the goal shouldn’t necessarily be from one year to the next to raise the score in this base by two points, or to achieve 100 out of 100 points by the year 2020. It’s an admirable sort of conceptual goal; the north star that we want to move towards. And from there, the nuances of how that gets done should be dictated by more than just one singular number.

Edgell: I looked up the other cities in this project. St. Louis performs better than Dallas, Oakland and Tulsa. And New York City is slightly better than St. Louis. Is is accurate to say that we are doing better than other cities? Or is it apples and oranges?

Black residents are nearly five times as likely as white residents to experience unemployment.-2018 St. Louis Equity Indicators Report

Furtado: It might not be apples to oranges: It might be Gala apples to Jonagold apples. We were all given a lot of flexibility and freedom to make this the tool that would be most helpful for us as a city. And for St. Louis, that meant focusing on race. And it meant aligning with the Ferguson Commission’s report. For the other four cities, the priorities were likely different. So it’s not super-meaningful to say, “Well, Tulsa had a score of 62, and we had a score of 56, so Tulsa is doing better.

More from the Equity Indicators Report: Black Children In St. Louis Far More Likely To Visit The ER For Asthma Than Whites

Correction: The Equity Indicators tool includes bother St. Louis Public Schools. A previous version of the audio in this story said the tool only includes St. Louis Public Schools. 

Holly Edgell is lead editor for Sharing America, a collaborative covering the intersection of race, identity and culture. This new initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, includes reporters in Hartford, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Portland, Oregon. Follow Holly on Twitter @hollyedgell.

Holly Edgell is the managing editor of the Midwest Newsroom, a public radio collaboration among NPR member stations in Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska.