When it comes to East-West Gateway’s “Where We Stand” strategic assessment of the St. Louis region, all I can say is it's "not very tall."
The nonprofit's sixth annual “Where We Stand” report compares St. Louis to 34 metropolitan areas across various categories. The St. Louis region, which ranks 17th in population in the nation, lags behind other regions in many areas. Several of the results are shocking and inexcusable.
Known for its nationally recognized hospitals and health-care coverage, St. Louis didn't fare well in terms of health. Our region was ranked ninth in infant mortality, third in smoking prevalence, and fourth in the prevalence of binge drinking. The region did better than average, however, in incidence of stroke (19th) and for diabetes (19th). Quite frankly, that's surprising based on the facts that the region was sixth in toxic chemical releases to land, air and water; fifth in carbon emissions; 14th in air quality; 10th in childhood lead poisoning; and No. 1 in asthma risk.
The region ranked 22nd for the number of individuals living in poverty and 18th when considering children living in poverty. Just 6.9 percent of the region’s seniors lived in poverty—St. Louis’ best performance in the report. (Only Phoenix scored better.) Unfortunately, the region ranked fourth in the total of unwed parents.
Our disparity rates among whites and blacks showed a widening canyon in terms of health care, education, and income levels. In racial disparity, St. Louis is second in infant mortality, eighth in unemployment, eighth in disparity of income, and 18th in higher education. One bright spot was that St. Louis is 22nd in disparity of education, six slots below the report's average.
Despite being No. 1 in CQ Press' annual crime rankings last year, the region fared surprisingly well in terms of crime statistics. Our total crime rate was 21st, as was the property crime rate. The violent crime rate was 14th, but the murder rate was sixth. (Remember: These rankings were for the entire region, not just the City of St. Louis.) When it comes to crime statistics, St. Louis did better than the Kansas City area—even in murder rate. But this was among the few areas where St. Louis outperformed our neighbor to the west.
In the overwhelming majority of the aforementioned categories and others in the report, Kansas City ranked better—even in areas where St. Louis actually excelled: voter participation (K.C. 6th, STL 20th), charitable contributions (K.C. 13th, STL 19th), volunteer rate (K.C. 6th, STL 9th). We did score better in culture and recreation sites (STL 17th; K.C. 26th), though. My guess is that Kansas City’s superiority in a number of categories was based on the fact that its region includes parts of eastern Kansas; along with the viable metro area, the suburbs west of Kansas City are quite affluent.
St. Louis still ranked among the nation’s leaders in cost-of-living—but the reasons have changed over time. If the declines and disparities aren’t halted, St. Louis could face a dreary future.
To view the "Where We Stand" report, visit the East-West Gateway website at ewgateway.org.
Commentary by Alvin Reid