Census: Southeast Mo. losing population

Friday, March 15, 2013
FILE - In this Feb. 9, 2011, file photo, a coal truck drives out of downtown Welch, W.Va. A record number of U.S. counties -- more than 1 in 3 -- are dying, hit by an aging population and weakened local economies that are spurring young adults to seek jobs elsewhere. New 2012 census estimates highlight the population shifts as the U.S. encounters its most sluggish growth levels since the Great Depression. In the last year, Maine joined West Virginia as the only two entire states where deaths exceed births, which have dropped precipitously after the recent recession. (AP Photo/Jon C. Hancock, File)

Editor's note: The following story has been corrected to reflect that Worth County is the state's smallest county and lost 2.6 percent of its population.

ST. LOUIS -- Missouri's population is growing, but very slowly, according to new estimates released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau. And in many Southeast Missouri counties, the population is declining, and in some areas deaths are outpacing births.

Census data shows Missouri's population grew by about 13,000 to 6,021,988 in the one-year period ending July 1. St. Charles led all Missouri counties with a gain of 3,685 residents. Greene County was next with a gain of 3,255, followed by Boone County [an increase of 2,614] and two Kansas City-area counties -- Clay [up 2,456] and Jackson [up 2,077].

Estimates also show many rural counties in Southeast Missouri are losing population. While Cape Girardeau County experienced 1.4 percent growth between 2010 and 2012, other area counties grew at a much slower rate or lost population. Bollinger and Perry counties' population each grew at a 0.2 of a percent rate. Scott and Stoddard counties both lost population -- a 0.1 of a percent decline in Scott and a 0.6 of a percent decline in Stoddard.

Other Southeast Missouri counties saw bigger losses -- 2.4 percent in Iron County, 2.5 percent in New Madrid County, and 2.2 percent in Ste. Genevieve County.

Many counties in Southeast Missouri -- Bollinger, Mississippi, New Madrid, Stoddard, Ste. Genevieve, Wayne and others in the region -- experienced more deaths than births.

St. Louis County's population rose 1,117 to put it back above the 1 million mark. But it didn't keep up with its neighbor to the west.

St. Charles County has been growing at a fast rate since the end of World War II and now has nearly 370,000 residents, according to the census. In 1950, it had fewer than 30,000 residents.

Economic opportunity is important, St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann said, noting the growth of business and industry in and near St. Charles County. "I think they're moving to where the jobs are," he said.

Ehlmann said good schools and safe neighborhoods also are important factors.

Jasper County, still recovering from the devastating Joplin tornado of two years ago, had the biggest loss. The Census said the county's population dropped by 2,576 residents.

Troy Bolander, planning and community development director for the city of Joplin, believes the town's population is actually starting to turn around. Joplin had just more than 50,000 residents before the May 22, 2011, tornado that wiped out about one-third of the homes in the community. City officials believe the population during the ensuing year or so dropped by around 5 percent. Now, Bolander believes people are coming back.

"What we're seeing on the ground is very encouraging," Bolander said, noting that building permits and utility hookups are rising. "Even the school district has indicated to us that they're almost at their pre-tornado level."

Some of Missouri's smallest counties became even smaller. Holt County in northwest Missouri lost 3.3 percent of its population, dropping to just 4,655 residents, according to the census. Dade County in southwest Missouri had a drop of 2.8 percent. Worth County, the state's smallest county, lost 2.6 percent of its population and now has barely 2,000 residents.

Holt County Commissioner Bill Gordon said there simply aren't enough jobs to keep young people.

"A lot of these kids get out of school and go to the cities where they can find jobs," Gordon said. "Farming has changed -- there are fewer and fewer family farms like there used to be."

The new data showed that St. Louis' population, which has dropped steadily since the mid-1900s, fell by another 391 to 318,563.

The census numbers are subject to revision.

Southeast Missourian managing editor Matt Sanders contributed to this report.

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