Imagine if St. Louis didn't rank 76th out of the nation's 100 largest cities in percentage of job growth since the Great Recession in 2007 to the end of last year.
Imagine if Missouri's growth in total income last year wasn't 48th in the nation.
Imagine if Missouri's college degree attainment rate was better than 34th in the nation.
Missouri has to dream. The future of our state depends on it.
The nation slowly is recovering from the recession. And while there are nuggets of good news in some statistics — Missouri's unemployment rate is declining — our recovery is slower than much of the rest of the country.
Missouri's poor performance measures, relative to other states, are nearly all education-related. While Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, spends much of his time touting anecdotal successes in certain business sectors that take advantage of tax credit programs, and while Missouri Republicans continue to spout the fallacy that inoculating corporations from environmental and discrimination laws will somehow spur a revival, both are focusing on the wrong things.
The story lies in the numbers.
Missouri's economy is lagging in large part because of workforce deficiencies. Missouri needs more college-educated employees ready to fill the jobs that corporations need.
This week, the Lumina Foundation released a report titled "A Stronger Nation," pointing out that key to the entire nation's economic revival is building a workforce with the skills businesses need in the 21st century. Missouri is not the only state lagging, but cuts in state spending on higher education, thus making college less affordable, contribute to its poor ranking.
"Our long-term problem is human capital. We have not enough workers who are highly educated and too many of the poorly educated," Lindenwood University economics department chairman Howard Wall told the Post-Dispatch's David Nicklaus this week.
You'd think the state's business leaders would make it their highest priority. Instead, they continue to push for tax breaks and regulation rollbacks, not investing the state's dollars where they are needed: in better education.
Slightly more than a third of Missouri working-age adults have at least a two-year college degree, a couple of percentage points below the national average. It's no coincidence that many of the cities and states that rank highest in college attainment in the Lumina study also rank highly in a Brookings Institute report released this week comparing relative economic recovery levels.
Missouri performs poorly in both rankings.
Missouri can accept that reality, or it can do better. The state's poor performance in education and economic indicators foretells a story of continued Rust Belt decline unless our civic and elected leaders decide to do something about it.
There should be no partisan disagreement that improving Missouri's higher education system and making it the centerpiece of a statewide economic development strategy should be among the state's top priorities.
Instead, our elected leaders bicker over funding levels that barely keep the state's rankings from falling off the map completely.
"It all comes down to education," Wall told us.
We dream of a Missouri that builds the future one college degree at a time.
Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.