Cape's income gap

Sunday, September 29, 2002

There's not much money on Cape Girardeau's south side.

Some of the homes are quaint and properly maintained. But others are run down, with high weeds, chipped paint and junk cars in the yards. Some neighbors there complain about loitering on the corners and suspected drug dealers.

A few miles away, residents in northwest part of town make an average of three times as much money, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures. If there is an eyesore in that area, it's usually where a new home is being constructed.

Some northwest residents live in middle-income homes, others in scattered apartment buildings and more in homes that would sell for $250,000 and up.

Both extremes in Cape Girardeau County lie within the city limits, and the gap between richest and poorest is growing dramatically. It's a situation city leaders say they want to address with more development and government grants to spruce up homes.

According to per-capita figures provided by the census, the neighborhood just south of Shawnee Parkway is the poorest of 16 census tracts in the county. The average person there makes $9,492 per year.

Meanwhile, residents in the city's northwest census tract, a much larger area bounded by the northern city limits, Perryville Road, Cape Rock Drive, Hopper Road, North Mount Auburn Road and North Kingshighway, make an average of $25,664.

Ed Arnzen, who lives on the northwest side of town, was working on his lawn Friday morning and complained that he was having trouble getting his grass to grow. But the former Southeast Missouri State University women's basketball coach said he doesn't have any other complaints with his neighborhood and is enjoying his semi-retirement.

"We've lived in this neighborhood 30-plus years, and we've loved it," he said. "That's why we've stayed here. It's a great place to raise children. My two daughters have moved away to Phoenix, and we're still here."

Dividing the city

Census tracts are small, seldom adjusted statistical subdivisions of a county. The tracts are determined by computers based on population.

When comparing 2000 census numbers to those of 1990, it's clear the income in Cape Girardeau's wealthier neighborhoods is increasing at a higher rate than those in the south.

While the inflation-adjusted income increased by 13 percent in northwest Cape Girardeau, it rose by 9.7 percent in the poorest neighborhood. The southwest portion of the city saw its average income increase by just 4 percent in 10 years.

Ward 2 Councilman Charlie Herbst, who represents the city's poorest neighborhood, said some may like to leave but have little choice.

"Where are you going to go?" he said. "If your family income is $24,000 and you've got two or three kids, where are you going to live? Most of the property in the county is going up. A lot of the older homes in these neighborhoods, you can still buy for $20,000 or $30,000 and live in."

One man who wished to remain anonymous, fearing for his safety, said he is in the process of fixing up his parents' south Cape Girardeau home. A carpenter by trade, he said he hopes to help his parents sell the home so he can get them out of the neighborhood.

"This neighborhood needs to straighten up," he said. "Kids around here have been watching too many gang movies. They all hang out on the corner and throw beer bottles at each other."

One of his neighbors didn't see it that way.

Evelyn Porter Whitener, 73, has lived on the south side all her life.

"I'm poor," she said. "I've always been poor, and I'll die poor. My neighborhood is fine. I'd be poor even if I moved somewhere else."

Asked if she would move if someone gave her a large amount of money, she said no.

"I'd give it all around," she said.

Reasons for the gap

Cape Mayor Jay Knudtson said lack of transportation is one reason why people in south Cape Girardeau, on average, have not seen as high an increase in income as others in town. Many residents don't have cars. Without public transportation, and with only one taxi service in town, some may be stuck in their situation, he said.

Knudtson called it a "disturbing trend" but said there is reason for the residents in those areas to have some optimism. He expects more jobs to come to that area once the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge is completed some time next year and once the Marquette Hotel on Broadway is renovated and turned into a state office building. The city also has applied for and won community development block grant funds to help fix up homes and help people buy them.

bmiller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 127

9801$16,858$9,884 ($13,237)Production and transportation (Managerial and professional)3 percent
9802$17,384$11,173 ($14,963)Sales and office occupations (Operators, fabricators and laborers)5 percent
9803$17,103$9469 ($12,681)Sales and office (Operators, fabricators and laborers)7.3 percent
9804$17,477$11,424 ($15,300)Mgt. and professional (Operators, fabricators and laborers)6.4 percent
9805$19,453$10,8092 ($14,467)Mgt. and professional (Technical, sales, administrative support, clerical)4.0 percent
9806$19,150$12,756 ($17,084)Mgt. and professional (Technical, sales, administrative support, clerical)3.8 percent
9807$25,664$16,546 ($22,159)Management and professional (Managerial and professional)2.4 percent
9808$12,668$7099 ($9,507)Management and professional (Technical, sales, administrative support)15.4 percent
9809$14,434$9,222 ($12,350)Management and professional (Technical, sales, administrative support)25.5 percent
9810$13,990$9,388 ($12,573)Service occupations (Technical sales, administrative support)23.6 percent
9811$22,116$13,991 ($18,378)Management and professional (Technical, sales, administrative support)4.3 percent
9812$26,599$16,308 ($21,841)Management and professional (Technical, sales, administrative support)1.8 percent
9813$20,838$14,936 ($20,003)Management and professional (Technical, sales, administrative support)7.2 percent
9814$9,492$6,397 ($8567)Service occupations (Service occupations)29.0 percent
9815$15,119$15,823 ($21,191)Sales and office (Technical, sales, administrative support)6.7 percent
9816$15,454$8,960 ($12,000)Service occupations (Technical, sales, administrative support)15.7 percentCOUNTY$18,593$11,858 ($15,881)Mgt. and professional (Technical, sales, administrative support)6.7 percent
SOURCE:Census BureauSoutheast Missourian/Gabe Hartwig
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