My family and I have called you “home” ever since we eagerly moved here in 2009, from Washington, D.C. We are done moving; you, St. Louis will always be our home.
My wife was blessed to get her dream job at Washington University, and our three kids were thrilled to have their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins just down the road. In 2011 I was fortunate to be offered an opportunity to work at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, where I am a now Senior Advisor for our recently launched Institute for Economic Equity.
Because of my work with the Federal Reserve, as well as my faith as a Catholic, I see our region’s challenges through both an economic as well as a moral lens. I see two reasons why, if we want to finally overcome our barriers and create a better St. Louis region for all of us, we need to begin investing more in our under-resourced communities—a lot more.
The first reason is that it’s the right thing to do. What I hope more people begin to understand is—it’s also the smart thing to do.
The Federal Reserve has, along with others, researched extensively how large and growing gaps in wealth and income—exacerbated by both race and gender—have a negative and dampening effect on our national and local economies. These gaps matter: they suppress the ability of many thousands of individual St. Louisans and their communities from fully participating in—and contributing to—our local economy.
Conversely, closing these gaps would significantly raise our region’s GDP by creating more small businesses and jobs, improving and retaining our stock of talent, and expanding our tax base. A more robust regional economy running on all its cylinders benefits all of us.
There is also a social benefit that is harder to quantify. By narrowing these gaps, we are poised to alleviate social isolation, drug use, crime, hunger, unequal educational opportunities, incarceration, racial tensions, and other social issues that have negatively impacted our region for too many decades. This also would improve our unfairly low national reputation, bringing additional families and employers to our region.
Our choice is simple. Do we want people on the sidelines feeling marginalized and frustrated, or do we want them engaged in the economy doing productive things? Personally, I would much rather have more St. Louisans participating in and contributing to our region’s economy.
Of course, investments in people and communities must be strategic and well-placed, but all of this is why the Federal Reserve has long been committed to community development to create a more inclusive economy and, especially recently, addressing economic inequality.
My biggest hope going forward is for us to understand that our fates our intertwined. That investing in our under-resourced communities and helping our fellow St. Louisans lift themselves out of poverty may be considered charity—but it’s also an investment in our entire region. As a Catholic, I might say acts of mercy—charity—can inspire and lay the foundation for acts of justice, or equity, which would also grow our economy.
Realizing that every part of our region is instrumental in our collective success is a critical first step. If we can understand that, then together we can solve a lot of problems. If we continue to only focus on our own communities and backyards, I fear the challenges we face will persist and even possibly increase in severity. I believe this has been our greatest hurdle in reversing our region’s downward trajectory to improve all our fortunes and move our region forward.
We have so many wonderful institutions, talent, and resources to build upon, and we have made much progress in recent years. Despite the shortcomings of our past, I am proud to call you my home. Because of conversations like this, I am also hopeful about our future.
If more of us can see that the greater good is tied to our own, and if we can work together and invest in each other, we truly can create a stronger, more prosperous St. Louis—once and for all.
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Senior Advisor