Editorials

Commute brings higher pay for Illinois workers as they improve St. Louis labor pool

One in four workers from southwestern Illinois crosses the Mississippi River to work in Missouri. Far fewer Missourians come to Illinois for their jobs.
One in four workers from southwestern Illinois crosses the Mississippi River to work in Missouri. Far fewer Missourians come to Illinois for their jobs. BND file photo

About one of every four workers in the Illinois portion of the Greater St. Louis area crosses the Mississippi River to work. The total for our region is about 71,300 commuters to Missouri.

But you’d think those river bridges were westbound only in the morning, and eastbound only in the evening. Fewer than 19,000 Missourians come over here to work.

There are greater opportunities and pay across the river if you are willing to fight the rush hour traffic. The housing values, schools and lifestyle can be better over here in Illinois’ bedroom communities. Most of that is common knowledge if you are from Illinois or discovered the area.

And it’s pretty common knowledge that most folks from Missouri consider Illinois a strange and distant land, inaccessible without a guide and possibly with denizens who worship a giant ape.

But as the commute statistics show, we may seek the opportunities but Missouri employers rely on the skills and knowledge Illinoisans bring.

And there are fewer reasons to cross the river. Illinois is catching up in pay, at least in some jobs. The job climate is improving to the point that one labor agency no longer deals with minimum-wage jobs and is working hard to fill some labor and manufacturing spots.

Unemployment in the region dropped from more than 10 percent in 2009 to about 4 percent today for the region, with Illinois-only areas at 4.9 percent when East St. Louis at 8.6 percent unemployment is included.

So next time some wonk in Washington, D.C., proclaims that Illinois doesn’t have the labor force to run their spy mapping agency, remember that we would if we wanted. All we’d have to do is stay home in Illinois.

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