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Latest population estimates show St. Louis metro area losing ground, the city dropping below 300000 – St. Louis Post-Dispatch

ST. LOUIS — The number of people who live in the city of St. Louis fell below 300,000 in 2021 and the metropolitan area also saw a decline in population as the region for the first time recorded more deaths than births, putting it among just a handful of large urban areas hit by outmigration and a negative birth rate. 

The numbers, though estimates, reinforce concerns about stagnant growth in a region that appears poised to be overtaken in the coming years by fast-growing metro areas like Orlando, Florida and Charlotte, North Carolina.

As of July 1, 2021, the Census Bureau estimated that just 293,310 people resided in the region’s core city of St. Louis, down from the 301,578 people counted in the 2020 Census. 

The entire metro area, meanwhile, had about 2.81 million people as of July 1. That was a drop of about 10,000 people in a little more than a year: the 2020 Census counted 2.82 million in the region.

And, in an unexpected and worrying sign, the region entered a “demographic winter,” said St. Louis University sociologist Ness Sandoval. That is, the number of deaths outpaced births here — long one of the factors blunting the trend of people moving away from the St. Louis region. 

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While a majority of the country’s counties saw a natural population decline, a trend accelerated by higher death rates due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many large Midwestern cities still notched natural increases, including Kansas City, Indianapolis and Cincinnati. Even in Chicago, where overall population declined, more babies were born than people died. St. Louis joined just a handful of large metro areas that saw both a negative birth rate and outmigration. 

“St. Louis has consistently had positive natural growth,” Sandoval said. “Compared to peers, it differentiated itself from previous years because it had more babies born. But now that’s not the case.”

‘Existential threat’

The numbers drew another call from the St. Louis metro’s new business and civic booster group for regional unity and a redoubling of efforts by area leaders to draw residents and focus on “inclusive economic growth.” Much of the city’s population losses have been of Black residents leaving the disinvested neighborhoods of north St. Louis.

Census shows St. Louis population dips below 300,000

A neighborhood cyclist makes his way north on 13th Street, passing a crumbling house near Monroe Street in the Old North neighborhood on Thursday, March 24, 2022. Recent census figures show that the population of St. Louis has dipped below 300,000. Photo by Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com

“At the start of last year, we established Greater St. Louis Inc. out of the core belief that growth must be a top civic priority for the St. Louis metro,” said Greater St. Louis Inc. CEO Jason Hall. “These numbers tell us what we expected and underscore the urgency of focusing this metro on growth and more opportunities for all. Stagnation is the existential threat to everything we love about the place we call home.”

St. Louis County, which grew by just a couple thousand people from 2010 to 2020 to just above 1 million people, fell to 997,187 people last year, the estimates show. While the city of St. Louis saw a slight natural increase of about 100 people — which was more than offset by the departure of an estimated 8,000 people from April 2020 to July 2021 — St. Louis County saw deaths outpace births by 2,000 in that time. 

People also continued to leave the Metro East counties that, along with St. Louis city, have shed population over the last decade. St. Clair County fell to 254,796 as of July 1, from 257,400 in the 2020 Census. Madison County fell by a little more than 1,000 people, to 264,490. Monroe County was estimated to have 30 fewer residents than the 2020 count, dropping to 34,932. All three saw both negative birth rates and outmigration. 

The bright spots were in the western and southern suburbs of the region, primarily St. Charles County. It was estimated to have grown by almost 5,000 people in the 15 months since the 2020 Census, to 409,981 people. Franklin County, too, grew by a couple hundred residents, to 105,231. Jefferson County added about 1,000 people, growing to 227,771.

But of those three, only St. Charles County had more babies born than deaths. Even then, it was less than 10% of its overall growth, adding just 400 people. 

Census shows St. Louis population dips below 300,000

The Railway Exchange parking garage is tagged with graffiti as the Old Courthouse and ShipWorks building rise behind it in downtown St. Louis on Thursday, March 24, 2022. Television station KMOV, housed inside the ShipWorks building, recently told employees that it would leave downtown, the second of three stations to move. Recent census figures show that the population of St. Louis has dipped below 300,000. Photo by Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com

Meanwhile, Missouri as a whole added residents, unlike Illinois. Missouri was estimated to have about 6,168,187 residents in July 2021, about 13,000 more than were counted in the 2020 Census. Illinois lost about 140,000 people, according to the estimate, falling to 12.67 million. Much of that was concentrated in Chicago, which lost about 100,000 from its metro, according to the estimates. 

But Missouri’s population growth was largely new residents. Between the 2020 Census and July 1, about 5,600 more people died in Missouri than were born, unlike Illinois, which saw positive natural growth of close to 4,400 despite the outmigration.

The St. Louis region’s declining birth rate is in contrast to its cross-state peer, which Sandoval said is largely because of Kansas City’s larger Mexican population, which tends to be younger and have higher birth rates. Many of the places that managed to notch natural population increases are those with sizeable Hispanic populations, something St. Louis doesn’t have. 

The negative birth rate could be a deviation due to COVID-19, Sandoval said. But it’s still concerning. 

“Hopefully if we get past the pandemic, mortality rates kind of go back to normal,” he said. “But I think the unanswered question is: will fertility rates go back? We don’t know.”

Other cities

Two of the nation’s fastest-growing cities look poised to soon overtake St. Louis in population.

Orlando added almost 20,000 people from the 2020 census to July 1, growing to 2.69 million. Charlotte grew even faster, adding 40,000 people in that time to reach an estimated 2.7 million people.

Some of St. Louis’ peers in the Midwest also notched growth between the 2020 Census and the 2021 population estimates. The Kansas City metro added about 7,000 people, growing to just under 2.2 million. The Indianapolis region added about 15,000 people, reaching almost 2.127 million. The Cincinnati region grew by about 3,000 people in that time, to 2.26 million.

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura O. Jones said “once-in-a-lifetime opportunities” like the almost $500 million in federal money the city received from the federal government will allow it to invest in affordable housing and neighborhood amenities.

“These steps are necessary to reverse decades of disinvestment that has led to St. Louisans leaving our city — especially north of Delmar,” Jones said in a statement.

St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann, though, thinks until the region deals with the city’s high crime rate and the perception it gives the whole region, even growing places like St. Charles County will eventually run out of steam. 

“Whatever short-term advantage it’s given us, long term it’s a real potential problem,” Ehlmann said in an interview. 

He suggested Republicans in Jefferson City may want to look at changes to the laws governing the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office or city control of the police department.

“Maybe it’ll light a fire under some people,” he said.  

Originally posted at noon Thursday, March 24. Updated at 5:30 p.m.

St. Louis metro area lost population in latest census estimate

* 2020 Census (April 1, 2020) ** 2021 population estimate (July 1, 2022) Source: Census Bureau.

County 2020 Census * 2021 estimate ** Change % change
Franklin, Mo. 104,682 105,231 549 0.52%
Jefferson, Mo. 226,739 227,771 1,032 0.46%
Lincoln, Mo. 59,574 61,586 2,012 3.38%
St. Charles, Mo. 405,262 409,981 4,719 1.16%
St. Louis, Mo. 301,578 293,310 -8,268 -2.74%
St. Louis County, Mo. 1,004,125 997,187 -6,938 -0.69%
Warren, Mo. 35,532 36,518 986 2.77%
Bond, Ill. 16,725 16,596 -129 -0.77%
Calhoun, Ill. 4,437 4,369 -68 -1.53%
Clinton, Ill. 36,899 36,793 -106 -0.29%
Jersey, Ill. 21,512 21,333 -179 -0.83%
Macoupin, Ill. 44,967 44,406 -561 -1.25%
Madison, Ill. 265,859 264,490 -1,369 -0.51%
Monroe, Ill. 34,962 34,932 -30 -0.09%
St. Clair, Ill. 257,400 254,796 -2,604 -1.01%
Total metro 2,820,253 2,809,299 -10,954 -0.39%

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