News Fit to Print. (Media/Politics)

By Jones, Terry | St. Louis Journalism Review, June 2002 | Go to article overview

News Fit to Print. (Media/Politics)


Jones, Terry, St. Louis Journalism Review


Scholars and think tanks love to crunch numbers. And their numbers can provide citizens with useful information about how their metropolitan area or state is performing, both absolutely and relatively. The local media have only been tapping a small portion of this output, but the May 2 St. Louis Post-Dispatch was an instructive exception. It had two front-page stories based on national studies, one on black-white differences in mortgage rates and the other on public-university tuition.

Neither had much good to say about St. Louis or Missouri. The home financing study, titled "Risk or Race" and released by the Center for Community Change, finds that the St. Louis region leads the nation's metropolitan areas in racial disparity on high-interest mortgage loans.

Local blacks are six times more likely to incur such disadvantageous loans than are whites--twice the already disturbing three-to-one ratio for the entire United States.

"Losing Ground," issued by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, reveals that the cost of college, especially public institutions, is rising much faster than is family income. Missouri is a leading culprit in making higher education less affordable for its residents and, with the state's recent budget problems, its standing is apt to slip even more.

For every one of these index-based stories covered by the St. Louis media, however, there are many not mentioned. Visiting just one of the think-tank websites, the Brookings Institution Center for Urban and Metropolitan Studies, finds several relevant studies completed within the past year.

Here are two examples:

"Growth Without Growth: An Alternative Economic Development Goal for Metropolitan Areas" puts the St. Louis region in a positive light. Authored by Paul Gottlieb, a Case Western Reserve University economist, the study questions whether more jobs and a greater population is the only, or even the best, way to chart a region's economic progress. Perhaps a better goal is higher per capita income.

Can a region have income growth without job growth? Gottlieb's analysis says yes. The nation's 100 largest metropolitan areas fall into four almost equal groups--those with above average income growth but below average population increases; those with the reverse, below average income hikes and above average population growth; and those which are above the median on both or below on each.

Gottlieb calls the first group "wealth builders" and St. Louis finishes first-that's right, numero uno--in this category. Between 1990 and 1998, the region's per capita income, adjusted for inflation, went up 2.11 percent annually while, at the same time, population rose 0.

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