St. Louis Knowledge Workers Make Big Gains While Blue-Collar Workers Lag

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The Central West End and its nearby Cortex Innovation District have attracted big investment in recent years. - PHOTO COURTESY OF FLICKR/DAVID WILSON
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF FLICKR/DAVID WILSON
  • The Central West End and its nearby Cortex Innovation District have attracted big investment in recent years.
How affordable is St. Louis? The answer differs sharply depending on where you're coming from.

A new study from Apartment List shows that wages have risen in the metro area, even when adjusted for the increased cost of housing — but only for knowledge workers. For service workers and blue-collar workers, once you adjust for the cost of housing, wages have actually dropped.

The study looks at 2005 from 2015. Knowledge workers in the St. Louis area — including engineers, lawyers, designers and managers — saw a seven percent increase in wages in that period, even when accounting for housing costs.

But blue-collar workers saw their wages drop 7.1 percent when housing costs are factored in. And service workers saw a 8.1 percent drop, the study says.

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That's a trend that's true nationwide, the study found:
Knowledge worker pre-rent wages increased by 7 percent over the past decade while blue-collar worker wages stagnated and service worker wages fell by 1 percent. Knowledge workers started out earning more than double the wages of blue-collar and service workers in 2005, and that gap has continued to grow over the past decade. When factoring in rents, knowledge worker post-rent wages still grew by 6 percent while blue-collar (-5 percent) and service worker (-7 percent) post-rent wages fell.
The study noted that six metro areas have managed to buck the national trend: Tulsa, Birmingham, Providence, Oklahoma City, Charleston, and Rochester. Those half-dozen managed to do well across the board, with workers in all three categories showing gains.

St. Louis, not so much. In fact, the divide here is even sharper than the one seen nationwide.

In the U.S. as a whole, the study finds, knowledge workers have seen a 5.7 percent gain (contrasted with a seven percent increase for knowledge workers in St. Louis). Nationwide, too, blue-collar workers lost just 4.6 percent and service workers 6.7 percent — contrasted with minus 7.1 percent and 8.1 percent, respectively, in St. Louis.

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The numbers don't lie. And in St. Louis, the affluent are getting more affluent even as their less privileged counterparts fall farther behind.

We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at sarah.fenske@riverfronttimes.com


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