The Kansas City metro area continues to grow, while the St. Louis metro area lost population in the last year.
The St. Louis metro’s population declined by 1,328 from 2015 to 2016, according to the latest migration estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. Its natural population growth — more births than deaths — was positive at 6,633, but its net migration was a negative 7,403 — 11,583 domestic migrants left, and 4,180 international migrants arrived.
And for the first time since 2011, St. Louis County, which covers several outlying cities around the city of St. Louis, dropped below 1 million people, largely because of a rise in net domestic out-migration.
Meanwhile, the Kansas City metro area experienced modest growth, said Jeff Pinkerton, senior researcher at the Mid-America Regional Council, the planning organization for greater Kansas City.
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The seven-county Kansas City area grew by about 19,900 from 2015 to 2016. About half of that was natural population growth, and the rest was net migration, Pinkerton said.
Since 2010, the Kansas City metro area has added about 97,000 people, or about the population of Lee’s Summit.
“That’s not anything to sneeze at — that’s a pretty good size,” Pinkerton said.
In the past, a significant portion of the Kansas City area’s growth has been on the Kansas side, in Johnson County. But in the last year, that’s started to change.
“We’re starting to see the Missouri side flex its muscles a little bit more,” Pinkerton said. “The Missouri side is really capturing a larger share of the population growth.”
Platte County was the fastest-growing county in Missouri from 2010 to 2016, with 10.1 percent growth, said Tracy Greever-Rice, director of the Office of Social and Economic Data Analysis at the University of Missouri.
The Springfield area also is growing quickly, she said. Christian County, south of Springfield, experienced 9 percent population growth from 2010 to 2016.
Although the city of St. Louis has been losing population for years, the most recent data showing a dip for St. Louis County was a bit of a surprise, said John Posey, director of research for the East-West Gateway Council of Governments in St. Louis, which is the area’s metropolitan planning organization.
“That’s something we’re going to need to keep our eyes on,” Posey said. “We need to wait and see if this is a long-term trend or statistical blip.”
Pinning down the reasons why the St. Louis metro area as a whole has seen a decrease is difficult.
Generally, people move to where they have economic opportunity. And while St. Louis is no longer the traditional manufacturing hub it once was, there is still advanced manufacturing that makes up a significant portion of its local economy.
St. Louis is not the only metro area facing that challenge, Posey said.
“Among the manufacturing power houses of 50 years ago, de-industrialization has affected these regions the hardest,” he said. “They’re struggling to redefine their niche in the global economy.”
But St. Louis has held its own in retaining good-quality jobs, and income growth has held steady, which is a better indicator for quality of life than a bunch of low-wage jobs, he said.
Now, when you look at the last few years, the numbers lost are in the hundreds rather than thousands, Posey said.
The city of St. Louis, which has a population of about 312,000, has been losing people for decades.
At the city’s height in 1950, the city of St. Louis had more than 850,000 people, Posey said.
“It’s a long process that’s been going on, but the piece of good news is the rate of decline is slowing down,” Greever-Rice said.
Nationally, the county with the biggest outward migration from 2015 to 2016 was Cook County, Ill., home to Chicago. More than 66,000 people left, but it remained the second-largest county in the country, behind Los Angeles County.
Maricopa County, Ariz. — home to Phoenix — replaced Harris County, Texas, as the county with the highest population growth. Maricopa County gained 81,360 people between July 2015 and July 2016 — or about 222 people per day.
County population and growth, July 2015 to July 2016
Jackson County: 691,801, added 5,428
Platte: 98,309, added 2,092
Cass: 101,845, added 1,349
Clay: 239,085, added 3,614
Johnson County: 584,451, added 5,693
Wyandotte: 163,831, added 736
Leavenworth: 80,204, added 997
Data: U.S. Census Bureau