Background and Demographics: The economic region of St. Louis is the second of the two key sites for the Possibilities and Boundaries in the Socio Political Shaping of Unemployment project. Located in the state of Missouri, United States of America (U.S.), St. Louis sits along the western bank of the Mississippi River. While the census metropolitan area of St. Louis MO-IL includes 7 counties in Missouri and 8 counties in Illinois (St. Louis Regional Chamber, 2014), for the purposes of this research, we will be focusing on St. Louis City. According to the City of St. Louis (2011), the boundaries of St. Louis City were established in 1876 when the home rule charter was instituted to identify St. Louis City as an independent county. In the early 1900s, St. Louis thrived with its access to rail and water transportation and central location in the U.S., and the population peaked in the 1950s (City of St. Louis [COSL], 2011). By the 1980s, St. Louis’s population fell to roughly 450,000 following the migration of many residents to surrounding counties (COSL, 2011). Between 2008 and 2014, St. Louis City saw a marked decline in population from 356,730 to 318,496 (Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis [FRED], 2015). Today, the population of St. Louis City just surpasses 317,000 inhabitants (FRED, 2015). Moreover, in the year 2010, during the sharpest decline between 2008 and 2013 (FRED, 2015), 70.5% of the population fell between the ‘working age’ range (those aged between 16 and 65), with 35.8% of this population identifying as female (United States Census Bureau [USCB], 2010). Seniors over the age of 65 made up 11.0% of the population in 2010, with females making up slight majority of this population with 6.8 (USCB, 2010).
Employment in St. Louis: Over the past decade, St. Louis has seen substantial layoffs and closures of major companies in and around the St. Louis area. As of May 2014, the primary economic sectors in St. Louis included: office and administrative support, sales, food preparation and service, healthcare, education, and transportation (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015). In an article published by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Gallagher, 2015), St. Louis is currently experiencing a rut in both healthcare and education, both of which actually grew during the Great Recession of 2008 until 2012 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015). The local automotive industry was hit hardest during the Recession with the closures of two large automotive plants (Chrysler and Ford) (Gallagher, 2015). The peak of the unemployment rate came in 2009 following the start of the recession and the simultaneous closing of the St. Louis Chrysler plant, with the rate skyrocketing from 7.0% in January of 2008 to 12.5%, in June of 2009 (FRED, 2015b). The unemployment rate in St. Louis City is typically higher than the overall St. Louis metropolitan area, and that reigns true today: as of August 2015, the city’s unemployment rate was 6.5% while the metropolitan area was at about 5.0% (FRED, 2015c). While the unemployment rate has slowly declined over the past few years, this statistic does not include those discouraged workers who have either stopped searching for work or who are working part-time but would rather work full-time.
The Role of Higher Education in St. Louis’s Population: St. Louis City is saturated with many colleges and universities, including Saint Louis University, Washington University of St. Louis, Harris-Stowe State University, Fontbonne University, and the systems of St. Louis Community Colleges. While many stakeholders state that there is a “brain drain” among the colleges in the St. Louis area, in 2013 it was reported that St. Louis was 10% more educated than the United States as a whole (Ihnen, 2015). Likewise, in 2013 there were almost 183,000 more people in St. Louis with at least a bachelor’s degree than in 2000 (Ihnen, 2015). Although many studies suggest that there is an increase in the number of college graduates in St. Louis, the number of university graduates who actually remain in St. Louis city is unknown.
Supports for the Unemployed: There are two key income security programs available to people who are unemployed in St. Louis: Unemployment Insurance and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Unemployment Insurance (UI) is a joint federal-state program aimed at providing income assistance to individuals who find themselves unemployed at no fault of their own or with reasonable cause related to the employer or work (U.S. Department of Labor [DOL], 2015). The financial assistance provided through this program is offered for a specified period of time, depending on the region where the claimant resides. The maximum number of weeks an individual is able to qualify for UI in Missouri is 20 weeks, with the national average resting at 26 weeks (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 2014). To be eligible for UI benefits, individuals must meet specific criteria related to the quality of their work and income prior to becoming unemployed. Some individuals who file for UI benefits are also directed to State Employment Services to receive assistance in looking for a job. Claimants who aren’t initially directed to Employment Services may still be eligible for those employment services (DOL, 2015). If an individual is working a part-time, that person may also be eligible to receive partial UI benefits.
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is a program designed to provide cash benefits to low-income families and promote job preparation by requiring participation in employment and training services. In Missouri, TANF applicants must be Missouri residents and be legal caretakers of a child under the age of 18 or a child intending to graduate high school by age 19. There are additional eligibility requirements for the program, including specific criteria for current income, criminal status, and drug testing. Under the employment and eligibility requirements, the applicant must complete a certain number of hours of training or employment activities based on the age of the children in the household and the number of parents in the household. (The Missouri Department of Social Services [MDSS], 2015) The federal cap for receiving TANF is 48 months. As of March of 2015, it was estimated that there were about 73, 323 people receiving TANF benefits in Missouri, with 60% of those people being children. The average cash benefit per household is about $227 per month (Young, 2015).
Strategic Plan for Economic Development in St. Louis: Following the 2008 recession, the Mayor of St. Louis City and the St. Louis County Executive designed a plan for an economic partnership between St. Louis City and County (St. Louis Economic Development Partnership [SLEDP], 2013). While there has historically been tension between St. Louis City and County, both parties recognized the need for an integrated economic platform and established this collaboration on August 1, 2013. The purpose of this economic merge was to provide business growth and development across the spectrum of employers to position the St. Louis metropolitan area for future economic success (SLEDP, 2014). The St. Louis partnership will work with a number of local organizations to promote entrepreneurial opportunities, job start-up, trade and investment, and redevelopment of underutilized real estate throughout the city. One primary organization is Accelerate St. Louis (SLEDP, 2014), an organization dedicated to reshaping the St. Louis region by providing information and resources to startups, entrepreneurs, and investors (Accelerate St. Louis, 2014). The partnership plans to adopt measures from this organization to assess achievement of economic growth (SLEDP, 2104). The partnership also plans to increase usage of the St. Louis’ Foreign Trade Zone in order to increase global trade business and investment (SLEDP, 2014). The St. Louis City and County Strategic Plan for Economic Development also identifies a need for urban regeneration by targeting real estate projects particularly in North City and County (SLEDP, 2014).