Census Estimates Offer Variety of Narratives for St. Louis, Region

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Census 4

The latest round of Census estimates have been released, and while there may be few surprises, the numbers offer several narratives for Missouri and the St. Louis region.

The “hot take” for some will be that Kansas City is growing and St. Louis is shrinking. However, that doesn’t tell you very much, especially considering the vastly different nature of the city boundaries, as well as metro populations, and relative slow growth across the state.

Kansas City, MO has gained population over the past few years, adding 11,013 residents (+2.4%), per estimates. That city now counts a population of 470,800 across its 319 square miles. On the east side of the state, the St. Louis City estimate shows a loss of 3,680 residents (-1.2%) from 2010 to mid-2015 across 66 square miles. For those counting, the residential density of Kansas City is 1,475 per square mile  and St. Louis, 4,783 per square mile.

Those are the numbers people are expected to care about, and the ones everyone will write about. But what’s happening in the respective metro areas, and are the numbers good news or bad news?

When the 2010 Census showed St. Louis City losing more than 29,000 residents in the first decade of the century, it was considered a disaster. This was in part because Census estimates had repeatedly been challenged by the city and stood at 354,000, a gain of about 8,000 residents. The reality of an 8% loss (348,189 to 319,294) when most were expecting the 50-year hemorrhaging of residents to have reversed, was tough to take.

But those looking for context would find similar Census misses in like cities Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, and big loses in Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland. The issue wasn’t confined to the Rust Belt. The largest discrepancy occurred in Atlanta. The 2009 estimate there was 541,000, an amazing 29.9% growth. The narrative of the booming capital of the south was in full effect.

The actual Census count in 2010 came in at 420,003, or an increase of 0.8% for Atlanta. This wasn’t suppose to happen. How could the Census, both driven by and driving the perception of population growth, have been so far off? How could Atlanta city leaders have pushed for higher estimates and believed that 30% growth was real?

City leaders want population to increase. It’s ego, it’s marketing, it’s also access to more money from federal and state grants, some of which factor in population. Atlanta challenged Census estimates and the numbers went up. Fulton County, GA, which includes Atlanta, did the same, pushing the estimate to over 1,000,000 in 2009. The 2010 Census counted 920,581 residents.

In Cincinnati, city leaders had challenged Census estimates and the number stood at 333,013 in 2009, an increase from the official 2000 population of 331,285. There was a lot to celebrate as the half century of decline was over! The 2010 Census recorded 296,943 residents. The decline continued.

That city’s 2014 estimate stood at 298,165. After consecutive decades of -10%, -15%, -9%, and -10.4% loses, any predicted population increase should clearly be considered with a healthy dose of skepticism. Cincinnati was one of very few cities that experienced an increasing rate of population loss last decade. Despite this, the narrative of Cincinnati is not predominantly one of decline.

So what do the latest estimates tell us about St. Louis? The trend in St. Louis City is one of slowing loses (by decade -27%, -12.4%, -12.2%, -8.3%). The city is on pace to lose 7,360 residents, or -2.3% for the decade. And assuming the rate of decline is declining each year, if the estimate is accurate, the city may come close to holding its ground.

Further, assuming a linear change in population change rate (follow that?), the city may be gaining population by the end of the decade. In short, the change in population for a decade presumably isn’t the same for each year of that decade. Here’s what that looks like:

Census 1

For the St. Louis metro area, growth remains stagnant, an estimated +24,000 residents since 2010, making it the third slowest rate of growth among the nation’s largest 25 metro areas.

Within the metro area, however, things are anything but stagnant. St. Charles County continues to grow, but at its slowest rate in half a century. After consecutive decades of 77%, 75%, 55%, 48%, 33%, 27% growth, the county has experienced an estimated to be on pace for 14% growth this decade. With that county being increasingly built out, the rate of growth could be assumed to continue declining.

Perhaps the bigger buried lede, and I admit to burying it quite deep here, is significant population loss on the Illinois side of the metro area. Just one county (St. Louis City) is estimated to have lost population on the Missouri side of the metro area, while six of eight Illinois counties are seeing a decline in population.

Census 2

What this means, among other things, is that the metro area population continues to drift further west (currently west of Clayton). In typical good news-bad news fashion, this is a positive for the state of Missouri, and a negative for downtown St. Louis, and perhaps the region.

To bring that context to a current issue, the narrative of St. Louis City’s effort to retain the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency has often been depicted as a way to stem the decline of the city, to redevelop an area that is losing population. St. Clair County, the city’s rival for the $1.6B project, lost 2.2% of its population so far this decade, nearly double the rate of loss estimated for the city.

Often, the stories we tell, the narratives we craft, or submit to, are more powerful than reality. Numbers have value, there’s a big incentive to inflate them, and perhaps a natural tendency to want to believe positive news. We deny evidence counter to our accepted narrative.

St. Louis County is losing population? That’s a blip, we’re growing again. St. Charles County continues to boom (though at an ever-slower pace). Residents continue to flee the city (though at an ever-slower pace). The metro east is a bucolic wonderful place to live (and is losing population quickly). In the end, trends continue until they don’t.

Current estimates appear to make more sense than those of last decade, and St. Louis, and other cities, are not challenging the numbers this time around. Yet side variations last time around can’t be fully accounted for by politicians hoping to boost their city’s image. Only another five years will reveal the real numbers.

For a national perspective on trends in population change, check out this comprehensive read at City Lab: 2015 U.S. Population Winners: The Suburbs and the Sunbelt

 

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  • matimal

    Population is one thing, jobs and incomes are another. How’s STL’s job and average wages performance?

    • onecity

      Bingo!

    • Maddow3000

      not really. As I mentioned on another post that is what I think is so ironic, Ferguson is even post michael Brown nicer than it ever has been. There’s a new development going up in downtown Ferguson right now, there’s a cigar bar and a microbrewery and whine bar all a block away from city hall, where the protesters had been camping out. Northland shopping center where there police had their press conferences, was one of those dead mid century malls. I which they could have kept the old buildings because it was pretty cool looking even when it was empty when I was a kid but, now it’s a bustling shopping center.

      So yeah I think that narratively is incongruent with the facts on the ground in addition to being elitist and generally offensive. I just find it amazing that some how St. Louis is still losing people because there are so many areas that basically didn’t have people or had many fewer people that are now over flowing… ie: basically the entire central corridor, is there a neighborhood or zip code break down, because I can’t imagine the population losses are coming from north st. louis if only because, those population losses already occurred 20 or 30 years ago.

      • John R

        As you can see from Alex’s graphic posted in a comment below, North City indeed had a significantly higher percentage loss and higher raw number loss than south city experienced last decade.

        Further, Census Community Survey data released in the past few years indicate that STL City continues to lose African-Americans but is gaining whites and Asian population (and hispanic origin population). The County meanwhile is gaining African-Americans and Asians (and hispanic origin) but is losing whites… most likely out to St. Chuck’s. So basically “black flight” has been following “white flight” out of North City and there’s been some white movement out of the County and probably out of south city.

        • Maddow3000

          Is that movement? how many of those people just died?

          • John R

            City has had more births than deaths so I assume migration is very much in play, especially as Saint Louis County black population is increasing… perhaps they are all coming from Chicago but likely the City is in the mix as well.

          • Maddow3000

            I grew up in a st. Louis county that was already full of black people. Maybe you just didn’t notice. But in 2000 the black population was 20.55% now it’s 23%. I don’t see this great migration you describe.

            With respects to births and deaths. Typically people don’t establish their own residence upon birth. My general experience was that everyone I went to highschool with went away to college and most of them didn’t come back. Obviously that isn’t precisely the same reality in the city but people do grow up and establish new households. The population is not organically replacing itself. However, that is not the same thing as households relocating. Nor is the only source of black people the City of St. Louis. You joke about Chicago but all those bucolic counties in Southern Illinois with declining populations have a lot of black people in them….

          • matimal

            ” already full of black people” huh? “Everyone I went to highschool with” you say? Sounds like a statistically representative body of evidence to me! How does the population of the CWE or Tower Grove grow? I said nothing about Chicago.

          • Maddow3000

            I’m responding to John R…

            And by full of black people, I simply mean there was multitude of black people. …I was there… I am black… I wasn’t alone.

            Well it wasn’t representative but there at cities receive a large influx of college graduates from across the US, LA San Francisco, Chicago, New York, similarly I’ve met no shortage of transplants to St. Louis from towns across missouri and southern illinois. But that type of migration is intergenerational and describes the establishment of new households. I’m just disputing whether large numbers of established household are moving from North St. Louis to North County.

            I’m not sure what you mean about how does the CWE or Tower Grove grow, I would say mostly by defining their borders outwards at this point, at least if you look at listings.

          • matimal

            The borders of St. Louis neighborhoods don’t change. If an area gains population its because there are more residents within its unchanging boundaries.

          • Maddow3000

            Really? I don’t see chinatown on the map below. It sure used to be a neighborhood,

          • matimal

            Where do you get the impression that St. Louis residents are dropping like flies?

          • Maddow3000

            I don’t but if you have a population living in an established community who’s offspring settle elsewhere then that community trends older and eventually those people die.

          • matimal

            Birth and death rates are irrelevant to this dynamic. It’s about people going and coming.

          • Maddow3000

            The census doesn’t count dead people. To the extent people die and their children to not establish household in the same location the population will decline, even if the birth rate is higher than the death rate. Which to your point, is where migration comes into play.

          • matimal

            So, you’re saying that the death rates in north st. louis city are significantly higher that those a few miles away in north st. louis county and that this explains a significant share of the declining population of north St. Louis city.

          • matimal

            “in the City of St. Louis over the past 10 years: Overall mortality rates have decreased 14%…”

            City of St. Louis Department of Health. Alex isn’t allowing links for some reason, but I found it in a few minutes.

      • matimal

        So, you’re arguing that the economic mix of people leaving St. Louis City is the same as the economic mix of those entering St. Louis? The population losses ARE coming from North St. Louis and much less so from south St. Louis. Look further down in these comments. How can the truth be “offensive?”

        • Maddow3000

          No I’m saying the exodus of people leaving North St. Louis City already happened. The people moving to Ferguson or wherever weren’t coming from the city, I would suspect but from Jennings or Pine Lawn or any number of other municipalities.

          People don’t need to exit the city at all for the population to decline. People die if fewer new people move in than the number that die the population declines. Are those groups of different income levels?….What does that have to do with anything is my question, the issue at hand is population.

          • matimal

            The entire point of this article is that the exodus of people leaving North St. Louis City IS continuing. The publisher of this website has offered evidence that your argument is incorrect. Do you have any evidence of the origins of those moving to north county? Jennings IS North County. Birth and death rates are largely in balance in a place like metro St. Louis. They have no significant effect on population changes. Movement of people is the issues at hand and people are moving from north St. Louis to north county. Others are moving to the central areas. They are almost entirely different people.

          • Maddow3000

            No he hasn’t shown that the decrease in population of North St. Louis represents those people relocating to north st. louis amy ,pre tham he demonstrated that the decrease in population of South St. Louis moved to North County. I was simply observing that there was already a large black population in St. Louis County when I wa a child, it was 20.55% in 2000 it’s 23% now. As you say, Jennings is in North County and it is next to Ferguson, it also has a very large black population so why would one think that

            “…the Michael Brown debacle really a story of poor households moving into north county and frightening the locals who expect the same thing that destroyed north city to come their way?”

            When black people moving to North County was nothing new. In other words if you were likely to run fleeing in fear of black people to outer mongolia then you’d probably already done so by 2014. To say the Ferguson was/is in a state of decline in the last 10 years uses some definition of decline alien to me. There is far more appealing about ferguson today than there was in 1999 and one needs only drive through down town ferguson to appreciate that. The same could be said of maplewood or the grove or lafeyette square or downtown st. louis itself.

            Which is why I continue to say, decline? what decline?

          • matimal

            I said nothing about “decline” in Ferguson or anywhere else in north county. I don’t know Ferguson and I don’t care about it.I didn’t talk about race either. My point was economic and about St. Louis City. In north city and county most people happen to be mostly poor black people, therefore most of the black people leaving north St. Louis must be poor blacks. Where are they going? It is certainly possible that even if the black population of north county didn’t change at all, the economic composition of that population might have changed by including them. My point is that poor blacks continue to leave St. Louis City and that young and other professional class whites are entering St. Louis City. You have offered no evidence of how this is affecting north county. You’d make a valuable contribution to this discussion by doing so.

          • Maddow3000

            I understand that your point was economic, what I asked was what that had to do with whether the population went up or down.

            I don’t think this is affecting North County. North County seems nicer now that it ever was in my lifetime. I’m don’t even know that poor black people are moving out of North St. Louis in the first place. Which was the point of my original comment.

            BTW do you really think most of the people in North County are poor and black?

          • matimal

            Economics is a measure of the activity of people. No people, no economy. Yes, virtually everyone in north St. Louis city is black and poor. Tens of thousands of people from north St. Louis city have left it as Alex Ihnen has shown. That necessarily means that poor black people have been moving out of north st. louis city.

          • Maddow3000

            I didn’t say North City, I said North County.

          • matimal

            And this is important because…?

  • STLEnginerd

    Well back to hoping for a wave of Syrian immigrants…

  • matimal

    Does Illinois’ very different tax structure explain the decline of east metro?

    • Alex Ihnen

      I think the decline of rural communities and perhaps the decrease in jobs in downtown St. Louis explains a good part of it.

    • Tim E

      I think part can be explained by the hard hit in manufacturing for the area and corporate consolidation that impacted downtown directly but the Missouri side had a much more diverse service base from healthcare to finance to plant science and now a building tech scene to fall back on. Metro east has the ups and downs of massive US Steel Granite City works being replaced by less paying distribution jobs where as Missouri auto industry hit has been in part taken up by Centene and ExpressScripts with just as good or better paying jobs. Unfortunately for metro east, those service industry are spread out and favor the western movement of the metro area.. Bunge NA new HQ only continues the trend.
      ..
      On top that you got Wash U, SLU, Harris Stowe, UMSL, Maryville to Lindenwood versus SIUE. Missouri’s budget might be hard on UMSL and IL budget crises even harder on SIUE. But, Missouri side falls back on some solid well endowed private universities as well as Wash U & SLU medical school & SLCoP
      ..
      I do think Illinois tax structure, budget crisis, some ill fated government supported mega power projects and missing out on the frack/natural gas boom is hitting the state hard and even more so for metro state, downstate. Which leads to the unfortunate play that raiding federal jobs from Missouri side is the only real action in the foreseeable future except a few more warehouse jobs for Amazon and or a worker or two along the river.

  • rgbose

    Since 1970 St Louis City, St Luis County, and St Charles County have gained 2.29% in population. Not per year, over the entire 45 years. And now we’re all on the hook for much more infrastructure.

  • rgbose

    If St. Louis had as much land area as Kansas City, it’d have over a million people.

  • citylover

    Interesting to see. Love the snarky article I read yesterday blasting St. Louis for its population loss. Funny because it was written by a St. Clair rep.

    I always like looking at the pop. stats per city neighborhood. Wondering if any green (gains) neighborhoods will flip to red (losses) and vice versa. Will it be light population loss throughout? Or is it gonna be extreme losses in some neighborhoods and extreme gains in others? Cool to think about. The dream is to see green all over 🙂

    • Bob S.

      Likely extreme loss sadly in north city, modest gains in south city, and solid gains in central corridor…

      • Alex Ihnen

        Last decade north city and south city both lost ~17,000 residents.

        https://nextstl.com/2014/09/pxstl/

        • John R

          But a significant difference in the percentage loss b/w North & South. My hunch is we’re seeing a slight loss in South City, an improved but still high loss in North City and an even greater gain in the Central Corridor compared to last decade.

          • John R

            I wouldn’t that at some point in the next decade or two we’ll have more population in Central Corridor than in North City. Sad.

          • John R

            * “I wouldn’t doubt”