St. Louis also lost population (8%) in the 2000s and mayor says it is “absolutely bad news”

Last week, 2010 Census figures about Chicago were released and showed a population decline of 200,000. Population figures regarding St. Louis were just released and city leaders are surprised at the 8% population loss over the 2000s:

Figures from the 2010 census were a bitter disappointment, as the city’s population dipped to 319,294.

That’s down more than 29,000 – a staggering 8 percent – from 2000.

For St. Louis leaders, the news was doubly disappointing because they were expecting to see an increase.

“It is absolutely bad news,” Mayor Francis Slay said. “We thought after more than 50 years of population decline that the city had finally changed direction. Obviously, that’s not the case.”…

St. Louis was the nation’s eighth-largest city with a population of 856,795 in 1950. Now, for a couple of decades, it hasn’t even been Missouri’s largest city.

Kansas City’s population grew to 460,000 in the latest census, widening the gap over St. Louis, though the St. Louis metro area remains significantly larger.

Since the mid-20th century, the exodus of St. Louis residents to the suburbs has been startling. And people keep moving farther away from the urban core. St. Louis County lost population in 2010 for the first time, down 1.7 percent to 998,954 in 2010, as residents relocate to communities like St. Charles, O’Fallon, Wentzville and Troy.

Since 1950, St. Louis has steadily lost population. A few thoughts about these figures:

1. On one hand, it seems odd that the mayor would be caught so off-guard by these figures. Couldn’t the city have predicted or at least seen some hints of it through other measures (like vacancies)? But this is more complicated:

A census estimate on July 1, 2009, forecasted that the city’s population of 348,189 in 2000 had grown to 356,587.

Either the estimate was wrong or there has been a substantial recent exodus.

The 2010 census is based on the population in April 2010.

So what happened between this 2009 Census estimate and the 2010 figures?

2. There are two things at stake with these figures: the loss of state and federal dollars (often tied to population) and a blow to civic pride. As the mayor suggested, the city had thought they had turned a corner. Additionally, there appears to be some comparisons to Kansas City, the other major city in Missouri.

2a. But on the other hand, the trends happening in the St. Louis area are happening in many large cities: people are moving to the suburbs, further and further from the center of the metropolitan region. Even St. Louis County (suburban but three times larger than St. Louis) lost population, 1.7%, for the first time.

3. While it is notable that the population in St. Louis dropped by about 29,000 (8%), in the last sixty years, this is the smallest percentage drop since a population increase in 1950. From 1960 onward, here are the percentage decreases: -12.5% in 1960, -17% in 1970, -27.2% in 1980, -12.4% in 1990, -12.2% in 2000, and -8.3% in 2010. So perhaps the population in St. Louis is slowly stabilizing.

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