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Census estimates show the St. Louis region’s population is steady with city below 300,000

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 Gateway Arch, shown from the Eads Bridge at daybreak in February. The region's population stayed steady around 2.8 million people, according to new estimates from the Census Bureau.

The St. Louis region has a stable population, according to new estimates released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The 14-county region hovered around 2.8 million people, only shedding about 10,000 between 2020 and 2021, but the changes weren’t evenly distributed. St. Louis and St. Louis County and counties in the Metro East continued to lose people while St. Charles, Franklin and Jefferson counties added population.

The bureau pegged St. Louis’ population at 293,310 in 2021, down from the official 2020 census count of 301,578. This is the second time the bureau estimated the city’s population was below the 300,000 line, which first happened in the 2020 estimates.

But the census estimates are just that: estimates, meaning they come with a margin of error, said Ness Sandoval, a St. Louis University sociology professor and demographer.

“It’s a question of precision, in my opinion. Are we at 293, or at 298 or 295?” he said. “I’m not surprised the estimate has it below 300,000, because we know pre-census the African American population was leaving the city.”

Sandoval cautions about drawing many conclusions from this single data point. The bureau releases new data frequently — the American Community Survey estimates came out last week, and another dataset will come out in the coming weeks, he said.

“If all these different data sources are telling the same story, then the story is probably correct,” Sandoval said. “In the case of St. Louis, all of the data that’s been released are basically telling the same story.”

And that story is a region that’s not experiencing any unexpected additions or subtractions to its population, he said.

“That’s either a good or a bad thing depending on how you look at these estimates,” Sandoval said. “We can do a pretty good job of predicting what St. Louis is going to look like five years from now.”

One detail that does stick out to Sandoval in these new numbers is that St. Louis was one of the few regions in the country whose population declined because of out migration and deaths outpacing births.

Regional leaders may see these numbers and worry about a stagnant population, but the St. Louis area is seeing robust growth among Asians and Latinos, and Sandoval said this should be encouraged.

“I think St. Louis has a lot of good things to offer — the quality of life, the American dream,” Sandoval said. “I'm not sure we’ve been very intentional in telling our story.”

He added that leaders in the state and region have let those outside of the area frame what life is like in St. Louis, often around negative stereotypes.

Eric Schmid covers the Metro East for St. Louis Public Radio as part of the journalism grant program: Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. 

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