St. Clair County, situated in Illinois, ranks as the ninth most populous county in the state, boasting a population of 257,400 according to the 2020 census. This county is located directly to the east of St. Louis and forms part of the Metro East region within the Greater St. Louis metropolitan area. The county seat and largest city within its borders is Belleville.
St. Clair County exhibits a median household income of $57,473, surpassing the state average of $56,230 but falling short of the national average, which stands at $62,843. Nevertheless, it’s important to note that economic prosperity is not evenly distributed throughout the county. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau reveals that certain neighborhoods in St. Clair County grapple with elevated poverty rates and lower median incomes.
In this article, we delve into the five most economically challenged neighborhoods within St. Clair County. We base our assessment on the percentage of residents living below the poverty line and the median household income for each of these areas. Additionally, we provide insights into the background, including location, population, and historical context, of these neighborhoods.
1. Washington Park
Washington Park, a village situated in St. Clair County, lies approximately 7 miles east of St. Louis. As of the 2020 census, the village is home to 3,794 residents, making it the county’s smallest municipality in terms of population.
Washington Park grapples with a staggering poverty rate of 51.9%, which is notably the highest in the county and more than four times the national average of 12.8%. The median household income in this neighborhood stands at a mere $20,000, ranking as the lowest in the county and less than one-third of the national average.
Historically, Washington Park was established in 1923 as a resort community catering to African Americans facing racial segregation elsewhere. The village thrived with entertainment venues like nightclubs, casinos, and theaters, drawing visitors from the wider region. However, the latter half of the 20th century witnessed economic decline, business closures, and an exodus of residents. The neighborhood has also grappled with issues such as crime, corruption, and financial instability in recent times.
Centreville, a city within St. Clair County, is located approximately 6 miles southeast of St. Louis. With a population of 4,505 according to the 2020 census, Centreville ranks as the county’s second-smallest municipality in terms of population.
Centreville contends with a poverty rate of 48%, which is the second-highest in the county and nearly four times the national average. The median household income in Centreville stands at $21,250, making it the second-lowest in the county and less than half of the national average.
Founded in 1814, Centreville was among the first settlements in Illinois Territory. Named for its central location between Cahokia and Belleville, it thrived as an agricultural and industrial hub in the 19th and early 20th centuries. This period saw numerous mills, factories, and railroads operating in the area. Nevertheless, post-World War II, Centreville faced economic decline and a decline in population as businesses shuttered, and residents relocated to suburban areas. The city has also wrestled with environmental challenges, including flooding and sewage issues, in recent years.
Alorton, a village situated in St. Clair County approximately 8 miles southeast of St. Louis, houses a population of 1,831 according to the 2020 census, rendering it one of the county’s smallest municipalities.
Alorton grapples with a poverty rate of 46%, ranking as the third-highest in the county and more than three times the national average. The median household income in Alorton stands at $22,500, making it one of the lowest in the county and less than half of the national average.
Originally part of Centreville, Alorton separated and incorporated as a distinct village in 1947. The village derived its name from the Alcoa Aluminum Company (ALCOA), which operated a substantial plant in the area until its closure in 2009. At one point, Alorton was a thriving industrial community, hosting several factories and businesses that provided employment and income to residents. However, the village grappled with deindustrialization and urban decay in the latter half of the 20th century, resulting in employer departures and resident unemployment and poverty. In recent years, Alorton has also confronted issues of crime, violence, and corruption.
4. East St. Louis
East St. Louis, a city within St. Clair County, is located across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. It boasts a population of 25,154 according to the 2020 census, making it the county’s second-largest municipality by population.
East St. Louis contends with a poverty rate of 42.5%, ranking as the fourth-highest in the county and more than three times the national average. The median household income in East St. Louis stands at $23,750, making it one of the lowest in the county and less than half of the national average.
Founded in 1861 as a railroad and industrial hub, East St. Louis experienced rapid growth in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, attracting immigrants and migrants employed in various industries, including steel, meatpacking, and chemicals. The city also boasted a vibrant cultural scene with notable figures like Miles Davis, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, and Katherine Dunham.
Nevertheless, East St. Louis faced significant challenges in the latter half of the 20th century, including racial discrimination, labor unrest, deindustrialization, urban renewal, white flight, and civil unrest. The city witnessed a drastic loss in population and a decline in its economic base since its peak in 1950. It has also grappled with high rates of crime, poverty, and social issues in recent years.
Cahokia, a village in St. Clair County situated approximately 10 miles south of St. Louis, is home to 13,537 residents according to the 2020 census, making it one of the county’s most populous municipalities.
Cahokia contends with a poverty rate of 35%, ranking as the fifth-highest in the county and nearly three times the national average. The median household income in Cahokia stands at $29,167, making it one of the lowest in the county and less than half of the national average.
Founded in 1697 as a French colonial settlement and Jesuit mission, Cahokia aimed to convert Native Americans to Christianity. The village took its name from the Cahokia tribe of the Illinois Confederation, who once inhabited the region before succumbing to disease and warfare. Cahokia was also home to the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, preserving the remains of an ancient Native American city that was once the largest and most influential urban center north of Mexico.
Following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Cahokia became part of the United States and eventually incorporated as a village in 1927. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, Cahokia thrived as an agricultural and industrial community, boasting farms, mills, factories, and railroads. However, post-World War II, the village faced economic decline and population decline as businesses closed and residents migrated to suburban areas. Cahokia has also contended with challenges such as flooding, pollution, and crime in recent years.
St. Clair County, with its diverse landscape, encompasses both prosperous and impoverished neighborhoods. The five most economically challenged neighborhoods within the county—Washington Park, Centreville, Alorton, East St. Louis, and Cahokia—grapple with high poverty rates and low median incomes compared to the county and national averages. These areas also face historical economic downturns, social issues, and environmental challenges that have shaped their current circumstances. Nonetheless, they possess rich cultural legacies, resilient communities, and the potential for revitalization that should not be overlooked.