Eliminating racial income gaps would boost the St. Louis economy by $14 billion, the Public Policy Research Center at University of Missouri-St. Louis concluded in a new report, “An Equity Assessment of the St. Louis Region.”
The St. Louis region currently has a $132.07 billion economy, with 74,000 business establishments and a workforce of 1.4 million.
Researchers came to this conclusion after studying data on equity in various aspects, including income, education and housing conditions. Much of this data on racial disparities was previously published in the “For the Sake of All” report, led by Jason Q. Purnell of the Brown School at Washington University, which itself relied on previously published data.
For example, whites in the St. Louis region out-earn blacks in the region at every level of educational attainment. The wage gap is $3 for those with less than a high school diploma ($14 to $11), $3 for high school diploma ($17 to $14), $5 for some college or associate’s degree ($20 to $15) and $2 for bachelor’s degree or higher ($26 to $24).
Though St. Louis is often ranked as one of the most segregated regions in the United States, the report concluded that the region is about average for income inequality. Using a measure for inequality called the Gini Coefficient, the St. Louis region falls in the middle for U.S. metropolitan areas, ranked at 76.
The Bridgeport, Connecticut region is ranked as having the most inequality in the United States, and the Ogden, Utah region as having the least.
Income inequality by race is increasingly detrimental to regional and national economies, researchers point out, because of changing demographics. In the St. Louis region, from 1980-2010 people of color increased from 17.8 percent to 24.7 percent of the population. By 2040, 33.4 percent of the population of the St. Louis region will be people of color.
Nationally, by 2043 a majority of Americans will be people of color. As recently as 1980, 80 percent of the U.S. population was white.
Nationally, the Gross Domestic Product would have been $2.1 trillion higher in 2012 if people of color had earned the same as their white counterparts, the researchers calculated.
“America’s demography is changing – and the nation’s economic fate will hinge on how we respond to these changes,” the researchers write in an introduction.
“As the population grows more diverse and people of color become the majority, equity – fair and just inclusion – has become an urgent economic imperative. Reversing the trends of rising inequality and stagnant wages, and ensuring that everyone can participate and prosper are critical to build a strong, competitive economy.”
The researchers advocated for policy changes designed to grow jobs and wages in minority populations.
“To build a strong next economy, leaders in the private and public sector need to advance an equitable growth agenda: a strategy to create good jobs, increase human capabilities, and expand opportunities for everyone to participate and prosper,” the researchers claimed. “Equity will make America, and the St. Louis region stronger.”
Researchers cited Atlanta, Denver, Kansas City, Los Angeles, New York and Portland-Vancouver as “metropolitan areas that are proactively addressing issues of equity” and encouraged St. Louis civic leaders to join the list.
“There are many decisions and actions required for a more equitable St. Louis region,” researchers claimed.
For more information, visit pprc.umsl.edu.