DEMOGRAPHICS

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ECONOMIC AND POPULATION CHANGE OF THE MID-20TH CENTURY

 

The decade of 1950 was a pivotal one for East St. Louis and all of the east side. East St. Louis reached a peak in population in 1950 with 82,295 residents, but has experienced a steady decline in population since then. By 1977, East St. Louis had suffered a loss of 22,250 people or 27 percent of the 1950 total. The population shift was from the older river towns (East St. Louis, Brooklyn, Sauget, and National City) into the newer suburban areas outside the city (Alorton, Centreville, Fairmont City, and Washington Park). However, by 1970 Centreville and Washington Park also began to lose population (by 11 percent and 10 percent, respectively), though Alorton and Fairmont City were still growing slightly (Donahue and Glickman 1977:1-14).

The rapid outmigration has resulted in a dramatic shift in the racial makeup of the east side. The most noticeable change has been a large Outmigration of the white population followed by a large increase in black population. Between 1950 and 1970 white population declined by 50 percent, while black population increased by 75 percent. The pattern has been one of a steady increase in black population in a direction beginning in the inner city and extending outward to the suburbs. Much of the population shift has been directly related to the general economic decline and lack of employment opportunity on the east side. The largest outmigration has, as a result, been among white and skilled blacks, usually young men, which has resulted in a large proportion of dependent black females and children. While there has been some in-migration of blacks to the east side, most of the increase has been natural increase through childbirth. Statistics show that white out-migration has exhausted itself, and white decrease through death now exceeds the increase from birth and in-migration (Donahue and Glickman 1977:14-20).

The change in the east side demographic profile has been accompanied by a decline in the regional economic base. The decline partially reflects the general economic downturn everywhere; however, beyond the instability caused by the national economy, the problems in East St. Louis stem from much deeper ills. While the prime causes of the economic decline are very difficult to isolate, the results are graphic.

While the highly employable, taxable, and skilled population shifted to the outlying suburbs, the vacuum left was filled by dependent serviceoriented residents. East St. Louis now has a population with a very high demand for services and a low capacity to contribute to the support of government.. As the suburbs experienced economic and population growth because of their favorable locations outside urban tax districts, commerce and industry soon followed, forcing the continued relocation of segments of the city population because of the shrinkage of jobs. The President's Advisory Committee on Intergovernmental Relations in 1967 described the economic disparity between the central cities and their suburbs:

"The large central cities are in the throes of a deepening fiscal crisis. On the one hand, they are confronted with the need to satisfy rapidly growing expenditure requirements triggered by the rising number of 'high cost' citizens. On the other hand, their tax resources are growing at a declining rate and in some cases actually declining, a reflection of the exodus of middle and high income families and business firms from the central city to suburbia" (Donahue and Glickman 1977: 31-33).

High property assessments seem to be the major cause for resident and economic relocation along with considerations of social status, aesthetics, services, and safety. The high rate of tax assessment, coupled with a rising municipal tax rate, is indicative of a situation where East St. Louis is trying to draw more heavily on deteriorating local tax resources in an effort to provide necessary services. This is a self-perpetuating cycle of a greater level of dependence overburdening services. The overburdened services then deteriorate and make an area less attractive to self-sufficient residents and existing businesses. The relocation of more residents and businesses means there will be less taxes collected, fewer jobs available, and a heavier dependence on the remaining residents and business, precipitating more deterioration in the quality of service and so on (Donahue and Glickman 1977:34,35).

However, the decline of East St. Louis commerce had more effect on the employment stability of the population than it did on the tax base, since historically, the city has given generous tax concessions to big business and industry in the area. Even at its apex in 1920 when the east side ranked first in the nation in the sale of horses, mules, and hogs, was the largest aluminum processing center in the world, ranked second in the country as a rail center, and led the country in the manufacture of roofing material, baking powder, paint pigment, and coal production, of 131 cities in the nation with over 50,000 population, East St. Louis ranked second to last in income from taxes and in the value of public property (St. Louis Post Dispatch 1977). In a city that received the bulk of its revenue from tavern licenses and wage earners, the decline of business eroded the one resource the city had always been able to lean on, its employed residents.

How could the city's industrial base, one of the largest in the country, decline to such a low level in less than half a century? The question involves both national economic trends and individual industrial sector fluctuations. Historically, the largest employer and most visible industry in East St. Louis, the railroads, have been the lifeblood of the city in terms of providing cheap fuel from the Illinois coal mines for the local industries, linking the East St. Louis manufacturers with the national market, and serving as an export industry for the movement of goods that neither originate nor are destined for the local area through the St. Louis gateway. Despite good connections to the national railroad network, the rail system at the local level is fraught with difficulties that hamper the efficient transfer of freight and movement of trains through the gateway (Donahue and Glickman 1977.: 37-38).

The local history of railroads has been marked by over-expansion, bankruptcy, mergers, federal receivership, and antiquarian. technology that has lagged behind the demands of the competitive transportation market. Even as early as 1922, engineers were examining the St. Louis-East St. Louis railroad system to determine changes that could be made to improve the inadequate facilities (St. Louis Chamber of Commerce 1922). In 1977, rail operations had fallen so far behind current technology that it took an average of 36 hours, and sometimes as long as 3 days, for a railroad car to pass through the gateway. Beginning shortly after World War II, the trucking industry began making inroads into the shipping commerce. The general decline of St. Louis as a national transportation gateway, the gains made by trucking and to a lesser extent barge transfer, the contraction of the local industrial shipping market, and the relatively high operating overhead of railroads has caused a disastrous decline in the industry. Over a 15 year period between 1962 and 1977, railroad employment dropped 59 percent in St. Clair County, representing a loss of over 2000 jobs mostly in the city of East St. Louis (Donahue and Glickman 1977:37,38).

Even more important to East St. Louis than railroads was manufacturing and heavy industry. In 1950 over one-third of the East St. Louis work force was employed in some form of manufacturing. However, since then, industry in East St. Louis has had to face the question of adaptability and survival. Because much of the industry on the east side originated during the golden era of manufacturing between 1890 and 1920, these factories are in need of repair and modernization. Some industries can never be adapted or renovated because of market changes that have rendered them obsolete.

In the face of such adverse conditions, compounded by a deteriorating transportation system and shifting water and fuel requirements that lessen the advantage once enjoyed by East St. Louis industry, many firms are finding it more profitable to relocate or invest in areas with a more stable and promising future. The stigma attached to East St. Louis as a result of a long history of political corruption, labor problems, crime, and violence is also a major stumbling block to redevelopment (Donahue and Glickman 1977:39-41). Indeed, Robert Koepke (1974) maintains that much of the bad image of the east side is due to poor public relations and the fact that the fragmented communities that make up the east side know very little about themselves and how they developed to their present condition (Koepke 1974:52).

Perhaps the biggest battle to be waged by the east side leaders will be the fight to put to rest the stigma attached to East St. Louis and environs. Saddled with a legacy of graft, corruption, violence, and corporate feudalism, the east side is faced with problems of tradition and policy inherited from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. If there is some consolation in the fact that the uphill battle is not a new development for East St. Louis, then perhaps the history of the city, and the east side in general, will prove to be a valuable lesson for those involved in formulating future policy for the area.

 

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