It’s no secret that St. Louis has struggled to consistently grow population.
When looking at changes in the St. Louis region’s population over time, it’s important to understand the migration in and out of the region — where individuals are moving to when they leave broader St. Louis and where they are coming from when they move into the region.
A look at the migration of tax filers in the two years prior to the pandemic shows that the metro area lost a lot of people to bigger cities, including many in warm-weather locales. Chicago, Phoenix and Los Angeles were amongst the top destinations, according to the 2020 decennial census. By contrast, the tax filers who moved into the region during that time largely made much shorter moves from outlying Missouri and Illinois counties.
Here’s a look at that data.
We spoke with Hank Webber, a longtime Washington University executive who is now principal at urban policy consulting firm Urban Impact Advisors, about the migration patterns impacting St. Louis, and what this might mean for the future of our region.
The 2020 Census data show most tax filers moving away from St. Louis are going to big cities, while those coming in are largely from within Missouri and Illinois.Does this match with demographic trends you’ve seen? The data tracks with long-term national trends. On the one hand, we are becoming a more urban nation. Increasingly, people live in the cities and suburban areas. On the other hand, most of the American population growth is in southern and southwestern urban areas.
What can this trend tell us about the St. Louis region? It is a challenge. Since 2000, the St. Louis region has grown at 40% of the national average. Unless we can start growing at close to national averages, we will to become a relatively less important region.
Is there any sign of reversal of the trend or movement towards a more neutral in-migration and out-migration? I have hopes that some of the steps the region is taking to cooperate better, such as the creation of Greater St. Louis Inc., will change these trends. The key to our success will be attracting more immigrants and members of minority groups. Nashville and Atlanta, for example, both of which are growing very rapidly, have been remarkably successful at growing their middle class African American population. Cities and regions always have a considerable flow of in- and out- migration. The big issue is the net gain or loss. Is the city and the region growing? The facts are clear. St. Louis city continues to decline sharply in population. The St. Louis region is growing, but far more slowly than most other regions in the US. These are both very negative trends that need to be turned around for the good of all.
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