Regional Success in St Louis: 2000 – 2020

Regional Success in St Louis: 2000 – 2020

Jodie Vice Lloyd contributed significantly to this work.

In recent years, St. Louis has been seen by many as a case study of urban decline. Mapping Decline: St. Louis and the Fate of the American City by Colin Gordan and The Broken Heart of America: St. Louis and the Violent History of the United States by Walter Johnson are two of the most popular volumes. In response to these sharp critiques, we decided to spend the past few years digging deeply into facts. Is, in fact, St. Louis particularly challenged compared to other major regions in the country?  

The results suggest that St. Louis is joined by other Midwest regions in struggling with slow population growth and large racial inequities.  But there are some regions doing far better on both growth and equity. The experience in these regions and national studies suggest a set of strategies for progress that St Louis should explore.  A copy of our full analysis is attached. 

We use three criteria to measure success: Growth in population; growth in per capita income (PCI); and racial equity in PCI. We believe successful regions are growing in population, becoming richer and narrowing income gaps between white and Black populations. 

We looked at how the St Louis region and the city of St Louis performed on each of these three criteria since 2000. We then compared St Louis to every metropolitan area with a population of over 1 million within 600 miles of St Louis. These metros are Atlanta, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Detroit, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Memphis, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Nashville, and Pittsburgh. We also looked at trends since 2000 in parts of the city of St Louis.  

Key conclusions about the St Louis region:

  • The St Louis region is growing much more slowly than most other regions in America. In fact, St. Louis was the 10th largest region in the U.S. in 1970 and is now the 21st largest region in the country
  • The St. Louis region is less racially diverse than most other regions and the U.S. The region has a higher percentage of white and Black populations and many fewer Hispanic residents than the U.S. average.
  • PCI in the region is modestly above the national average and has been growing close to the national average over the past twenty years. 
  • The region has unusually sharp white/Black disparities in PCI. White per capital income in St Louis in 2018 was $40,120. Black per capita income in St Louis in 2018 was $21,277. 
  • The white/Black gap in income in the region is increasing.
  • Most other large Midwestern regions are struggling with the same issues as St. Louis. To some extent, at least, the challenges of St Louis are the challenges of post-industrial regions in the Midwest.

Key conclusions about the city of St Louis

  • The region’s trends of low population growth and widening racial disparities in income are particularly acute in the city of St Louis. 
  • The city of St Louis, unlike most large cities in the U.S., continues to lose population. 
  • The city of St Louis has had the highest increase in PCI since 2000 of any of our comparison cities. However, the increase is not very equitable. White income grew by 30%, Black income grew by 6%. 
  • White income in the city of St Louis exceeds St Louis regional averages. Black income in the city of St Louis is below the regional averages. 
  • Parts of the city of St Louis have done very well since 2000. The central corridor has grown in population and income and continues to be very racially diverse. 
  • On much of the north side of the city of St Louis, PCI continues to decline and depopulation is occurring. 
  • While the degree of gentrification in the city is a topic of debate, there is no debate about the very weak condition of north St Louis. A decline of 32% in population and a 14% decline in PCI has led to a collapse of real estate markets in some areas and some of the most distressed urban neighborhoods in the United States. 

What is to be done?  There is no easy fix. Most of the historically manufacturing-oriented regions in the Midwest we have studied are also struggling. It is hard to move from an economy based on production to an economy based on new industries, education, health and services. But there are examples to point to and strategies to explore. 

Nashville is growing very rapidly and has reduced the PCI gap between its white and Black populations sizably.  Atlanta, in 1970 was half the size of St Louis, and is now a global city with a much higher Black PCI than St Louis or the U.S. Atlanta has done a remarkable job combining great racial diversity with growth. St Louis, like all Midwest cities, needs to continue to create new industries and economic growth in the region. St Louis has made considerable progress at developing new industries for the 21st century including bio-tech, ag tech and geo-spatial. More is needed. The most important studies of equality of opportunity, by Raj Chetty and his colleagues, note the way concentrated poverty and racial segregation reduce equality of opportunity. St Louis needs to devote great resources to alleviating both concentrated poverty and racial segregation. Many regions, including Nashville, have found regional government very helpful in organizing the region to do the very hard work of organizing themselves to compete in a new economy. 

Read the full paper

Jodie Vice Lloyd contributed significantly to this work and is the Business Development Manager for University College at Washington University in St. Louis. She resides in Richmond Heights and serves on its Plan and Zoning Commission. She holds a Masters in Public Policy Administration from the University of Missouri- St. Louis and a Bachelors of Arts in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.


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