Obstacles to a recovery

September 22, 2013 

We keep hearing that the U.S. economy is recovering, but it sure doesn't feel like it. That's especially true in St. Clair County.

* Twenty percent of St. Clair County residents -- one out of every five people -- live in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's latest estimates. That's much worse than the statewide average of 14.7 percent, and worse than Madison County's rate of 13 percent.

* Household income on average is 10 percent lower in St. Clair County than it was five years ago. In Madison County, it's down about 4 percent.

* The unemployment rate in St. Clair County was 9.6 percent in July, 8.5 percent in Madison County and 8.6 percent for Southwest Illinois.

*The wealth gap between the top 1 percent and the bottom 99 percent is wider than it has been in nearly 100 years.

Clearly our economic policies from the national level down aren't working. The Cato Institute, a policy think tank, argues that one reason is the welfare safety net has grown so big, it's created a disincentive to work.

"Welfare currently pays more than a minimum-wage job in 35 states, even after accounting for the Earned Income Tax Credit, and in 13 states it pays more than $15 per hour," the report states.

Welfare isn't as big of a disincentive in Illinois; the study calculates the average wage for welfare recipients at $6.53 an hour. But Illinois has plenty of other issues that has kept the unemployment rate elevated -- high taxes, costly workers comp costs and staggering pension debt are a few examples.

St. Clair County has its own set of problems, prime among them that local leaders have done next to nothing for years to address the economic decline, crime and corruption in East St. Louis, Cahokia and surrounding communities.

Until leaders at all levels admit to the failures and change directions, don't be surprised if the recovery remains elusive.

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