Others left jobs because they couldn’t find day care, or had to care for sick family members, and haven’t come back. “We’re just not seeing a lot of people returning to the labor force,” said Lowell Ricketts, a data scientist at the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank’s Institute for Economic Equity.

If you add that pandemic-related shift to the longtime challenge of a slow-growing, aging population, it’s clear that the St. Louis area will be hard pressed to regain its 60,000 missing jobs.

“The recovery was there in 2021, but it’s been slower than anyone would want,” Ricketts said. “Now the question is how much of what remains to be recovered is structural damage from the pandemic.”

In some ways, this year brought more positive economic news than St. Louis has had in a long time. Accenture opened a technology center in west St. Louis County that could grow to 1,400 workers, and American Foods Group announced plans for a 1,300-employee meatpacking plant in Warren County.

Stock-market transactions also created the area’s first two unicorns, locally based startups that grew to values of more than $1 billion. Nerdy, an online education company in Clayton, and Benson Hill, an agricultural technology firm in Creve Coeur, are both growing rapidly, and they’ve helped put St. Louis on the map for venture capital investors and other tech entrepreneurs.