ST. LOUIS — St. Louis is losing residents, according to U.S. Census figures released Thursday, and the population decline goes deeper than being another blow to the proud city's image.
The drop will mean a financial loss that could cost the already cash-strapped Gateway City millions of dollars.
Figures from the 2010 census were a bitter disappointment, as the city's population dipped to 319,294. That's down more than 29,000 — a staggering 8 percent — from 2000. For St. Louis leaders, the news was doubly disappointing because they were expecting to see an increase.
"It is absolutely bad news," Mayor Francis Slay said. "We thought after more than 50 years of population decline that the city had finally changed direction. Obviously, that's not the case."
The census numbers are more than an ego shot to a community already fighting an image of high crime and poorly performing schools. Federal funding for many of the city's programs is tied to population.
"It will mean a significant loss in federal dollars over the next 10 years," Slay said.
St. Louis was the nation's eighth-largest city with a population of 856,795 in 1950. Now, for a couple of decades, it hasn't even been Missouri's largest city. Kansas City's population grew to 460,000 in the latest census, widening the gap over St. Louis, though the St. Louis metro area remains significantly larger.
Since the mid-20th century, the exodus of St. Louis residents to the suburbs has been startling. And people keep moving farther away from the urban core. St. Louis County lost population in 2010 for the first time, down 1.7 percent to 998,954 in 2010, as residents relocate to communities like St. Charles, O'Fallon, Wentzville and Troy.
"This is a time for an urgent rethinking of how we do everything as a region," Slay said.