The latest U.S. Census Bureau data shows the St. Louis region has grown little in population since 2010, but also has remained fairly stable.
According to the 2014 estimates released Thursday, St. Louis holds its rank as the 19th biggest metropolitan statistical area in the country, up about 4,600 from the previous year to an estimated 2,806,207 people. That was due mostly to new births outpacing deaths in 2014, and despite a negative net migration.
But that still ranks St. Louis as 42nd among the country’s 50 biggest metro areas for growth in 2014. Overall, the area grew less than one percent since 2010.
Within that area, St. Louis city and St. Louis County saw little change in numbers since 2010. But suburban areas like St. Charles County did see growth.
Over those five years, St. Louis city’s population decreased by less than one percent, or about 2,000 people. In 2014, it lost about a thousand people.
“That’s what you should expect to see based on births and deaths and migration patterns: anywhere between 500 and 1,000 people leaving the city on an annual basis,” said J.S. Onésimo Sandoval, an associate professor of sociology at Saint Louis University.
St. Louis city is maintaining a population around 317,000, and Sandoval says he doesn’t expect the city to drop below the 300,000 mark anytime soon. That’s because there are many so-called “solos,” or single people without children returning the city that’s offsetting the losses of families to the suburbs.
“There’s too much activity happening in the central corridor,” he said. “That’s attracting young professionals back into the city.”
In the future, Sandoval said more empty-nesters also could begin moving back to the city. In fact, he said 2020 might mark the year the population bottoms out and begins to grow. Still, Sandoval said St. Louis is not a “destination place,” so solo numbers are unlikely to outpace the number of families leaving to turn the trend of a declining city population.
“When a family moves out, it’s typically three to four people moving out versus one solo. You’re never going to win that math game,” he said. “We are not New York or Chicago, so there will always be this net loss if you try to replace families with solos.”
The city is losing those families to suburban areas like St. Charles County, Sandoval said. In the seven-county area, St. Charles County added the most people since 2010 – almost 18,000 for five percent growth. Additionally, it was ranked 114 among counties nationwide for growth between 2013 and 2014. Lincoln, Warren and Jefferson counties also saw at least a two percent growth since 2010.
Sandoval expects the growth in St. Charles to continue and predicts the county will experience the biggest population gain when the 2020 Census is conducted. But he said that’s only if St. Charles remains affordable in its living and housing costs that have lured families away from the city – and even St. Louis County.
“If you want to buy a house, a bigger house, a more modern house, there is newer construction there that’s relatively affordable, compared with newer construction happening in Ballwin,” he said. “The price points for those homes are several thousand dollars less than St. Louis County.”
That said, St. Louis County’s population has remained “pretty stable,” Sandoval said. Still ranked among the largest 50 counties in the country, St. Louis County grew by about 400 people in 2014 and about 3,000 people or less than one percent since 2010.
Sandoval said families may also begin to look to the Metro East region. However, both Madison and St. Clair counties in Illinois have seen dropping populations since 2010.
But the events in Ferguson in late 2014 could affect migration patterns across the region, Sandoval said. Given the 2014 populations were estimated as of July 1, Sandoval said the data will likely have to be recalibrated to take such a “demographic shock” event into account, and predicts it will affect populations in north St. Louis County and the outlying areas.