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Census Update: Population Shifts In St. Louis Continue Same Path

(Credit: Sxc.hu Haap Media Ltd)

The population trends in the St. Louis metropolitan area continued in 2013, according to numbers released today by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The census estimates the city of St. Louis had 696 fewer people in July of 2013 than at the same time the previous year, 0.22 percent drop. At the same time surrounding counties in Missouri added population.

Saint Louis University sociology professor Onésimo Sandoval studies demography and said the numbers didn't surprise him. The structure of cities across the U.S. is changing, Sandoval said.

"You have families moving out of the city, but you have what are called 'solos' moving into the city," he said. "These are single people living alone. This is a new demographic phenomenon that’s happening in every city."

In the city of St. Louis, the numbers are part of a multi-year trend, but the nearly 700 person drop last year was larger than in the previous two years. In 2012, the census estimated there were 35 fewer people living in St. Louis; 2011’s estimate was a loss of 110 people.

Sandoval cautioned that the numbers are estimates and within a statistical margin of error, meaning the population may have remained the same. But he said the number of births in the city likely are masking bigger declines.

"If there were no people leaving the city, no people coming in, the city would grow naturally from births," he said. "So that growth of births from city residents is actually slowing down the actual decline or actual out migration of people from the city."

City’s reaction

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay’s administration has focused in recent years on shoring up the city’s population. His chief of staff, Jeff Rainford, said there was good news and bad news in the numbers. He said the central corridor is gaining residents, the south side is stable, but people continue to leave north St. Louis for St. Louis County.

"That’s why we’re focused in north St. Louis on some specific initiatives, including reducing crime and adding quality charter schools, so there are good educational choices for people," he said. "We’ve opened a new recreation center in north St. Louis, and the granddaddy of them all is Northside Regeneration, which we’re very supportive of."

Rainford said Paul McKee’s massive redevelopment project will be a "game changer." The $8 billion project promises jobs, new housing and new infrastructure.

Suburbs gain population

St. Charles County added more people last year than any other Missouri county — 4,939 people, a 1.34 percent increase.

St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlman said he remembers a time when they would average 9,000 more people a year, but he’s still happy with the increase.

"It’s new customers, new home buyers, new members of churches and organizations," Ehlman said. "I was lucky enough to grow up in St. Charles. My entire life we’ve been blessed with this growth for the people already here and for the people coming in."

He emphasized that the county is seeing job growth as well. Ehlman said about 50 percent of the population commutes into St. Louis for work.  That's a big drop from 20 years ago when he said 70 percent of the population commuted.

The census estimates also brought good news for Jefferson and St. Louis counties.

Jefferson County ranked 7th in population growth in Missouri with an estimated 1,167 additional people. That was nearly double the growth in 2012. St. Louis County ranked 9th with 971, down slightly from the previous year.

Metro East

The numbers in the Metro East were not quite as positive. St. Clair County lost 1,179 people, according to the census estimates. The drop was not as big as in 2012 when the county lost 1,404 people.

Madison County also saw a drop of 674, a slight uptick from the previous year. Monroe County added 183 people, twice as much as the year before.

Metropolitan region

As a whole, the region grew an estimated 6,363 people in 2013. That builds on the growth from the previous two years; 5,243 in 2012 and 3,886 in 2011. Yet, St. Charles County made up the lion’s share of that gain.

Ehlman, who sits on the East-West Gateway Council of Governments, said the whole metropolitan area needs to attract people.

"The fact that we have grown will certainly help the region, but I think it would be great if every county in the region had the same percentage of growth," he said.

Follow Maria on Twitter: @radioaltman

Maria is the newscast, business and education editor for St. Louis Public Radio.