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Economy & Business

This Metro East county has one of the lowest poverty rates in the country

Much of Monroe County bordering the Mississippi River is in a flood plain. This view of the plain is from the bluffs near Valmeyer in 2013.
File Photo | Mary Leonard | St. Louis Beacon
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Much of Monroe County bordering the Mississippi River is in a flood plain. This view of the plain is from the bluffs near Valmeyer in 2013.

Only 14 counties nationwide have a lower poverty rate than Monroe County, Illinois, located directly south of St. Louis, according to a new census report.

The mostly agricultural area located across the Mississippi River from Jefferson County had a median household income of just under $80,000 in 2015, and about 5 percent of the population was considered low-income.

While most of Monroe County is farm land, agriculture isn’t the county’s main source of income. Jim Hill, the chairman of Monroe County’s newly formed Economic Development Corporation, said just two percent of residents make their living through farming.

“The lands are used for agriculture, and will continue to be. It’s just that fewer and fewer people will be used to produce agriculture because of technology,” Hill said, adding that about 60 percent of the county’s workforce is employed outside of Monroe County.

We’re strategically located, which is ideal for commuting to where the population and the job centers are throughout the metropolitan area, and a lot of folks commute,” Hill said.

“We have good quality of life here, the folks who live in the county make good salaries throughout the St. Louis Metropolitan Area and prefer to live in Monroe County because we are a lower population county, not really any urban sprawl to speak of.”

Less than 35,000 people live in Monroe County, which borders St. Clair County to the northeast. The county seat, Waterloo, and the town of Columbia further north have a population of about 10,000 each.

Monroe County is east of Jefferson County and southwest of St. Clair County, with it's northern tip touching the southern edge of the city of St. Louis.
Credit Mapbox | OpenStreetMap
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Monroe County is east of Jefferson County and southwest of St. Clair County, with it's northern tip touching the southern edge of the city of St. Louis.

Hill said local governments and private businesses banded together this year to create the Monroe County Economic Development Corporation and expand the types of jobs available in the county.

“There are a lot of good jobs, a lot of good educational opportunities, all within easy commuting distance of Monroe County, and that bodes well for us. However it is a double-edges sword in terms of our own tax base,” Hill said. “While people that live in the county do well and have higher paying careers on average, some of that money is lost to other areas.”

The only other county adjacent to St. Louis with a single-digit poverty rate is St. Charles, a county with a much larger population than Monroe. Like Monroe, St. Charles has a lot of commuters and a growing population.

Follow Camille on Twitter: @cmpcamille.

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