© 2024 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

St. Louis’ urban core is shedding people and causing challenges for the entire region

The St. Louis Arch is pictured from the Eads Bridge during daybreak on Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022, in St. Louis, Mo.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
The St. Louis Arch is pictured from the Eads Bridge at daybreak in February. Between April 2020 and July 2022, St. Louis and St. Louis County, which make up the region's urban core, each shed close to 15,000 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The St. Louis region has been shedding population since the 2020 headcount, and now new data from the U.S. Census Bureau is helping to fill in the details of who is leaving and from where.

Last month, the bureau published population estimates for individual counties that offer breakdowns by age, sex, race and ethnicity.


“We’ve been looking forward to this data for some time now,” said St. Louis University sociology and demography professor Ness Sandoval. “This is different than the [American Community Survey] data, which allows us to look at the metropolitan level.”

Between April 2020 and July 2022, St. Louis and the 14 counties surrounding the city lost around 19,000 people. St. Louis city and county each shedding close to 15,000 residents. Suburban and exurban counties in Missouri, like St. Charles, Lincoln and Jefferson, posted gains, as they have in the past.

“Now we know more about the people who are leaving,” Sandoval said. “It’s the white and Black residents, and we actually know the age groups that are missing in our region.”

He noted the significant exodus of residents from St. Louis and St. Louis County.

“The St. Louis metropolitan region, its growth is dependent on the strong urban core,” Sandoval said. “If we see a continued decline in the city and county, it’s going to be very difficult for the St. Louis region to remain in the top 25 metropolitan regions over the next few years.”

The populations in metros like Charlotte and Orlando are likely to eclipse that of St. Louis in the next few years, he added.

Population declines across the region — especially in its urban core, St. Louis city and county — can drag on regional economic growth as companies consider relocating their office from downtown St. Louis.

Stagnating population growth is one of the big issues facing the region, said Rick Messey, a senior vice president at CBRE, which tracks office occupancy and vacancies.

Downtown St. Louis has the most office space of any part of the region, and 20% of it was vacant, according to recent data from CBRE.


Sandoval sees remote work as a key factor for downtown struggles, which is hitting cities like Denver and San Francisco as well as St. Louis, because it means people don’t necessarily need to be in-person as much, he said.

“We’re going to have to reexamine the role of migration and remote work,” Sandoval said. “I have students that are working in Boston, but they live here in St. Louis.”

The bigger effect may be on regional residents who are entering or are in the later stages of their careers, he said. The group spanning 55 to 59 years old dropped by 17,730 people, representing the biggest regional population drop of any age group between 2020 and 2022.

“These are people that are in senior positions, that are going to other cities, probably for better jobs,” Sandoval said. “Probably retiring in other locations, not here in St. Louis.”

Younger people also exited the region. The group 25 to 29 years old had the second-highest decline at 9,205, and children 19 and younger also left by the thousands. This represents both families leaving and those approaching the ages where they start having children or may be considering it, he said.

“This is a very difficult math challenge for the city and for the county when single people are moving in and families are moving out,” Sandoval said.

The Census Bureau will publish new estimates every year, which will help give a more granular picture of the region’s population.

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