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Census Estimates Show St. Louis Regional Population Hangs Steady; City Drops Below 300K

The U.S. Census bureau estimates 2.8 million people lived in the St. Louis region in 2020. The bureau estimates the Metro East, St. Louis and St. Louis county lost population while counties further west in Missouri gained residents.
Nat Thomas
St. Louis Public Radio
The U.S. Census bureau estimates 2.8 million people lived in the St. Louis region in 2020. The bureau estimates the Metro East, St. Louis and St. Louis County lost population while counties farther west in Missouri gained residents.

The number of people living in the St. Louis region stayed slightly above 2.8 million between 2019 and 2020, according to new estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.

In the past year, the bureau estimates a total of 144 people left the region, which it defines as St. Louis and the surrounding counties of Franklin, Jefferson, Lincoln, St. Charles, St. Louis and Warren in Missouri and Bond, Calhoun, Clinton, Jersey, Macoupin, Madison, Monroe and St. Clair in Illinois.

“For the region, we’re not growing, but we’re not losing lots of people,” said Ness Sandoval, who researches sociology and demography at St. Louis University. “Within different counties that’s not true, there are some that are experiencing loss. You’re getting intra-regional migration.”

St. Louis saw a drop of 3,242 people in the past year, the largest decrease in the region, pushing its total population below 300,000 for the first time since the mid-1800s. St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones, who took office last month, said the loss intensifies her priorities for the city.

“How can we provide an environment where people want to move back to the city to raise a family and to stay here as their family grows?” she said Wednesday.

The annually released estimates give a glimpse into regional makeup and largely show continuations of the migration trends the region has seen in the past decade.

St. Louis County and every Metro East county except Monroe also lost residents. St. Charles County continued to grow, picking up 4,579 people, the most of any part of the region, followed by more modest gains in the other counties west of St. Louis.


The data also show numbers for births and deaths in each county and reveal that nearly all the Metro East counties had more people die in them than were born, Sandoval said.

“Typically from a demographic perspective you never want to be negative,” he said. “You always want to have more babies being born than people dying.”

This trend is poised to extend to the more rural counties in Missouri, too, Sandoval added. And while he calls this data set “the gold standard” of population estimates, it doesn’t reveal why deaths outpace births in some areas, he said.

“Is this a factor of young people moving out?” Sandoval said. “Are the potential parents actually leaving the region, or is this simply a fact of people are getting older and a lot of our baby boomers are dying?”

Many of the answers to those questions and others over who is moving and why will come into greater focus when the full results of the 2020 census and the American Community Survey are released later this year.

Sandoval said he’s interested to see if the Black population is leaving the city and the region after data from past American Community Surveys indicated that was happening.

There’s also some contradiction in the data sets, such as St. Louis’ population declining while millions of dollars is being invested in parts of the city, he added.

“It could be that we’re seeing a major demographic shift happening, where the city is shrinking, but it’s becoming more educated,” Sandoval said. “The city has become a city for young people, for single people and for families without children. That’s not a bad thing.”

An influx of wealthier residents, while improving aggregate numbers, doesn’t always translate to improvements for all people who live in the region, said Charles Gascon, a regional economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

“It’s really important to look at mobility and income growth within the resident pool that we already have here,” he said. “We want to see the group of people that choose to be here feel like they can continue to prosper while living in the region.”

Gascon explained that a stable population or even one that’s slightly declining can still set the foundation for regional prosperity if incomes and employment rates are going up. This hinges on expanding the abilities of the labor force regardless of population, he said.

“Investing in the local population is really important to making the regional economy better and ultimately for other people around the country to see these improvements,” Gascon said.

Chad Davis contributed to this report.

Follow Eric on Twitter: @EricDSchmid

Eric Schmid covers business and economic development for St. Louis Public Radio.