Census stats show loss of population in St. Louis

Thursday, June 24, 2004

The city of St. Louis' population decline is nothing new. But there's a distinction in the latest census estimates: America's one-time gateway of westward expansion has lost residents at a larger percentage rate than any city with more than 100,000 people.

St. Louis had a greater percentage population loss than other sizable cities between the April 2000 headcount and July 2003 -- steeper rates of decline than Cincinnati, Detroit, Baltimore and Cleveland, the Census Bureau reported in estimates released Wednesday.

In Southeast Missouri, Charleston in Mississippi County noted an increase of 23.7 percent, going from 4.732 in 2000 to 5.855 in 2003. But the area also claimed some decliners: Howardville went from 342 to 326, a minus 4.7 percent decline; Gideon went from 1,113 to 1,059, a drop of minus 4.9 percent; and Matthews recorded a decrease of minus 5.6 percent after seeing its population go from 605 to 571.

In actual numbers, Detroit, which is far more populous, lost more residents than St. Louis.

"The rate of decline is consistent with the city of St. Louis' decline for decades," State Demographer Ryan Burson said Wednesday from Jefferson City.

Burson said St. Louis' population atrophy is all the more obvious because city boundaries have been limited from growth by law since the 1870s.

The city of St. Louis is 62 square miles. Kansas City, in contrast, comprises more than 300 square miles and its boundaries reach beyond Jackson County and into neighboring Platte, Clay and Cass counties.

The Census Bureau's most recent estimates put the city of St. Louis' population at 332,223. That's down 4.8 percent, or a decline of an estimated 15,966 residents, from the April 2000 headcount.

Rollin Stanley, director of planning and urban design for St. Louis, questioned the accuracy of the census estimates and said the numbers may not account for recent economic development.

Stanley cited building permits since 2000 for 9,000 new units and rehabilitations that the city hopes will add over 10,000 to its population by next year. St. Louis has other ambitious downtown projects under way, including a new home for the Cardinals baseball team.

Kansas City has been Missouri's most populous city for years. It was estimated in July 2003 to have 442,768 residents -- or 110,545 more people than the city of St. Louis. For Kansas City, that estimate marked an increase of 0.3 percent from 2000's headcount.

St. Louis has seen a steady outflow of residents to the suburbs of St. Louis and St. Charles counties, and increasingly even beyond those counties.

Lincoln County, about 60 miles northwest of Busch Stadium in downtown St. Louis, had the largest percentage growth of any Missouri county over the three-year period, 13.5 percent.

Christian County, a boom area south of Springfield in the Ozarks, was close behind with 13.4 percent growth during the period.

St. Charles County has had the greatest growth in numbers -- an estimated boost of 27,638 over three years, to 311,531, almost rivaling the city of St. Louis in population.

Burson said that O'Fallon, in St. Charles County, soared in new residents by 14,871, a growth rate of 30.5 percent, for an estimated 2003 population of 63,677.

That made O'Fallon the state's fastest-growing city in sheer numbers for the period -- and Burson noted the community grew by about as many bodies as the city of St. Louis lost.

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