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Where we stand: East-West Gateway reports on region

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 27, 2011 - The current economic recession has slammed many U.S. urban areas so hard that, by comparison, the St. Louis region's pain doesn't look so bad.

Our average home price has dropped 9.8 percent since 2007. But prices have dropped a third in Chicago and 45 percent in Phoenix.

When cost of living is taken into account, the region's average salary is the sixth highest in the country. And only 10.5 percent of the region's residents lack health insurance -- dramatically below the percentage in all but a handful of other major cities.

Now the bad news: The St. Louis region has seen a 29.8 percent drop in manufacturing jobs since 2001 -- one of the nation's sharpest declines.

Such findings are the upshot of the sixth and latest edition of "Where We Stand," a periodic comparison -- called a "strategic assessment" -- undertaken by the East-West Gateway Council of Governments. The last edition was in 2006.

Released today, "Where We Stand" compares the St. Louis region to 34 other metropolitan areas within 500 miles, and with populations of at least 1 million people. More than 100 rankings are listed in the 88-page report, from crime and jobs to education and the environment.

The reportalso underscores how the economy has changed, nationally and in the region.

For example: The 2006 edition -- released at least a year before the recession hit -- compared increases in housing prices, not declines. From 2001-2006, the St. Louis region had seen an increase in average housing prices of 39.4 percent, slightly below the national average at the time.

Overall, said research director John Posey, the latest report highlights that "we didn't escape the recession, but we avoided the extremes of 'boom or bust.' "

As in previous surveys, he added, this report documents many of the St. Louis' region's strengths.

Among the most notable findings, good or bad:

  • The St. Louis region's population is slightly older than average, compared to the other 34 metropolitan areas and the nation as a whole. The region's median age is 37.9, more than a year older than the nation's median of 36.8. The median for all the metro areas surveyed was even younger: 36.1 years.
  • Among the region's preschool-age children, 28 percent are enrolled in preschool. That's the fifth highest percentage among the surveyed cities.
  • The St. Louis region has one of the most spread-out populations, with 11.4 percent residing in the city of St. Louis, the area's largest city.
  • The region's infant mortality remains high, ranking 9th among the surveyed cities. The St. Louis area also has one of the highest rates of teenage mothers, who gave birth to 10 percent of the region's infants in 2008.
  • The St. Louis region ranks 27th when it comes to growth since 2000. The region's population has increased by 4.1 percent since 2000. The average among the 35 cities surveyed: 12 percent.

Among the surveyed cities, the highest percentage growth was in Austin, Texas, which saw its population increase by 35.6 percent. Charlotte, N.C., which beat out St. Louis to host the 2012 Democratic presidential convention, came in second, with an increase of 31.2 percent.
Ed Hillhouse, East-West Gateway's executive director, said the key aim of the report is to offer an objective comparison of where St. Louis fits in, nationally and regionally, when it comes to a variety of key indicators. "You can't get better, and you can't improve, if you don't look at the whole picture," he said.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.