U.S. Census Bureau estimates another population dip in St. Louis
The St. Louis region continues a long trend of shedding population, according to estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau on Wednesday.
The 14-county region, which includes the Metro East, had an estimated population of 2,801,319 in 2022 — an 11,158-person decrease from the year before. The change represents just a 0.4% drop.
The report covers the period from July 2021 to July 2022.
Much of the decrease comes from the City of St. Louis, which lost an estimated 6,984 people, a 2.38% dip. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 286,578 people live there.
“I'm not surprised by the overall conclusion that the region has lost residents. I'm surprised at the magnitude of the loss. I was not expecting it to be that significant,” said Nes Sandoval, a demographer at St. Louis University. “The fact that the drop is 11,000 is a bit of a shock to me,” added Sandoval, who said he expected less than half as large of an estimated decrease.
A key detail is that the region saw an estimated 2,714 fewer births than deaths.
“The St. Louis region no longer has the ability to grow naturally. Once you're in that trend, it's difficult to turn around because it's not something where you can just wave a magic wand and say, ‘We want more babies.’ It's a very difficult thing. Usually it takes a generation to turn those trends around,” said Sandoval.
Within the region, a few places saw population increases. Lincoln County’s estimated increase of 1,501 residents makes for a 2.43% increase. St. Charles County gained an estimated 3,292 people, a less-than-1% increase. In Illinois, Monroe County saw a slight population uptick.
“We're pleased with our local growth, but we want to see that same kind of growth across the region and across the state,” said Scott Drachnik, president and CEO of the Economic Development Council of St. Charles County. “We've got a lot to offer as a region and a state,” he said, “and we need to find more folks that see that and value that and want to move here.”
St. Louis has seen several major commercial developments come on-line in recent years, including City Foundry in Midtown and the new soccer stadium in Downtown West. But these attractions and similar projects may not drive population growth.
“St. Louis can't be fooled by all of the cranes in the sky and the tremendous growth we're seeing along the central corridor. The north half of the city is still draining population. You can't have a whole part of the city in decline and expect population gain,” said Michael Allen, an architectural historian who teaches at Washington University.
“Is the population number the overarching measure of our success, or is it more about quality of life? Maybe the city gives up on population growth as the main indicator and we acknowledge that we are in a sprawled metropolitan form where most of the population lives outside the city,” Allen added.