Economic conditions in the city of St. Louis and surrounding communities have improved since the trough of the Great Recession but they are far from ideal even when compared to other US urban areas. The St. Louis metro area ranks only at 32 nd place in terms of unemployment rate (5.6%), higher than Kansas City (5.0%), Pittsburgh and Cincinnati (4.3%), Denver (3.9%), and first place Minneapolis-St.Paul (3.0%) among the 50 largest urban areas. But these statistics belie how poorly the city of St. Louis itself is doing. For instance, the average monthly unemployment rate in 2013 was 9.1% in the city compared to 6.5% in St. Louis County. Both city and county unemployment rates have declined in recent years from peaks of 12.8% for the city and 9.1% for the county, but the decline for the city is due almost entirely to an extreme decline in the labor force. During the first decade of this century St. Louis city experienced a modest decline in its labor force, from a peak of 163,490 in 2001 to 159,293 in 2009. but then the labor force fell precipitously to 139,643 in 2013, a decline of 12.3% in just 4 years. Meanwhile a meager 619 net new jobs were created in the city from 2010 to 2013. This was the anemic response to the loss of 14,178 jobs in the city from 2009 to 2010. Surely we can do better; it would be difficult to do worse.
The city of St. Louis also has unacceptable levels of poverty. In 2009 the overall poverty rate was 26.5% for the city compared to less than 10% in St. Louis county, and less than 15% in Missouri and the US. The city poverty rate for those under 18 years of age was 40.7% in 2009 compared to about 12% in the county and 20% in the state and the US. These data do not distinguish between black and white poverty rates, but other sources indicate that black poverty rates, particularly for black youth, are significantly higher than those for whites. Income data simply reinforces the far less than satisfactory picture for St. Louis city residents. Median income for city residents is below that for St. Louis county, about a quarter less than for Misouri, and a third less than in the US overall.
Clearly the economic picture for St. Louis residents is far from satisfactory. Moreover, there is little evidence that programs at the local level or the national level have done much to improve the situation. Therefore the Green Party proposes the following economic programs to create living wage jobs, reduce poverty, and establish economic justice in the city of St. Louis.
1. Raise the wage of all St. Louis workers to at least a living wage of $15 per hour. This can be accomplished by city ordinance, or a city referendum, and, as a start, requiring all city contractors to establish a minimum $15 per hour entry level wage. Together with other programs to create city jobs, the $15 minimum will become the standard for St. Louis.
2. Labor’s right to time and a half for overtime worked needs to be reasserted and adjusted for increases in the cost of living. In 1975, 53.2% of workers in Missouri who earned the current equivalent of $984 per week or less, qualified for overtime pay. Today, due to inflation, anyone earning over $455 per week can be denied overtime pay even if they are required to work 70 or 80 hours per week. Earnings of $455 per week implies a poverty standard of living for families, and if required to work over 62 hours per week, implies an hourly wage below the Federal minimum wage. To address this injustice, city contractors should be required to pay overtime to all workers making under $50,000 per year whatever their job classification, thus restoring the 1975 overtime status for workers.
3. Establish sick leave benefits for low income workers. Unlike every other developed country, in the US paid sick is a benefit reserved almost exclusively for high earners. Among the top 10% of private industry earners, 87% have paid sick leave, whereas just 30% of the bottom 25% of earners have access to paid sick leave, and typically for them it is only 2 sick days per year. This inequity should be addressed by requiring all firms doing business in the city of St. Louis to provide at least 7 days of sick leave per year for all their workers.
4. Promote business and employment for St. Louis’ minority population. Well over half the population of the city of St. Louis are black and Hispanic residents. Yet these people are among the most economically depressed in the area, with, on average, twice the unemployment rates and half the annual incomes of non-minority residents. To promote a more just economic environment, reduce unemployment and raise low incomes, black and Hispanic businesses need to be able to compete for a much larger share of City contract business. A commission should be established to define just and equitable dimensions of this program.
5. Promote economic development in North St. Louis and other depressed areas of the city. Mayor Slay and the St. Louis Board of Aldermen have devoted far too much energy and City resources to the development of the downtown area at the expense of neglecting the rest of the city. To remedy this, the Board of Aldermen, working with regional Universities, public interest groups, and progressive corporations, should establish an area economic development plan, and aggressively seek funding from Federal, state, and profit and non-profit organizations. The plan would be approved by a public referendum and implemented by a publically elected commission.
6. Actively seek to promote an inclusive collective bargaining movement in St. Louis that works for the rights of all. Unions that are demographically inclusive and that actively support and campaign for the rights of workers on the job and for good working conditions should be given preference in city contracts. Contracts below a defined threshold need not be union, but the contractors must respect the rights of their workers as if they were unionized.